Courts give Google, Motorola One-two Punch in Apple Patent Fight

Motorola Mobility and its parent company Google had a bad day on Friday when two courts handed down rulings setting back the mobile device maker's hopes of a win against Apple in their ongoing patent infringement fight. First, a court in Germany granted Apple a stay in a case determining the licensing fees the company owes for SEP-related patents Motorola Mobility owns, and then a U.S. court denied Motorola a rehearing request over an ITC ruling on Apple's mobile device patent validity.

Motorola takes in on the chin in Apple patent court rulingsMotorola takes in on the chin in Apple patent court rulings

In the German case, Motorola had hoped to avoid a stay in its push to get an SEP licensing price set so that it can start collecting royalties from Apple for mobile device patents. Apple won the stay because the European Commission is currently investigating Motorola Mobility's possible antitrust use of the patents to try to strong arm Apple into paying higher than appropriate rates. Since the court can't issue a ruling that could potentially contradict a Commission finding, it will sit and wait to see what happens before proceeding.

Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents said, "The court also invited the European Commission to participate in this German FRAND terms case and referred several questions to the EU."

Thats bad news for Google and Motorola Mobility because there isn't any chance of collecting licensing fees from Apple while the case is on hold, and the companies could find themselves in legal hot water in Europe if the Commission determines that Motorola did, in fact, try to use its patents to force Apple into unfair licensing terms.

Motorola used the threat of an injunction blocking the sale of iPhones and iPads if the company didn't agree to its terms, and included conditions that would block Apple from challenging the patent's validity or disputing whether or not the patents in question were valid. The European Commission is looking at those terms as potential anticompetitive actions.

Motorola and Google's second blow for the day came in the United States when a Federal Court of Appeals denied their motion for a rehearing in a case where Apple-owned patents where initially declared invalid, but later reinstated, allowing an ITC investigation to move forward. That has the two companies concerned because it could ultimately lead to an ITC ban on the import or sale of certain Motorola smartphones.

The patents in the U.S. case include 7,663,607 related to multipoint touch screens, and 7,812,828 describing multi-touch surfaces. Those also happen to be patents Apple used at one point in its ongoing infringement battle against Samsung, but eventually withdrew. Apple, however, held the right to reinstate its claims against the company for the two patents -- an action it could take, if its legal team thinks there's a strong enough case after the ITC issues its ruling.

"This is very significant progress for Apple in its patent enforcement efforts against the Google subsidiary and the wider Android ecosystem," Mr. Mueller said.

The U.S Court of Appeals ruling comes only days after Apple, Microsoft, and other companies hit Google with a patent infringement lawsuit through their Rockstar patent holding company. The lawsuit uses patents Rockstar acquired from Nortel and targets not only Google's Android OS but also the company's search business.

Should the lawsuit pan out for the Rockstar partners, it could spell big headaches for Google because the way it handles its core business faces possible injunctions, major reworking to sidestep patent infringement, or steep licensing fees. Regardless of the outcome, however, Google's headaches have already begun because companies like Apple and Microsoft are throwing their weight behind a direct legal assault on Google, and so far the Internet search giant's efforts at counter assaults have been failures.

So far, Google has managed to buy a company that hasn't been able to successfully hold its own in the mobile device patent wars to the tune of US$12.5 billion. That's a pretty big investment for a patent portfolio that isn't paying off and a company that's consistently losing ints infringement fights.