ITC Drops Motorola Proximity Sensor Patent Claim Against Apple

The U.S. International Trade Commission gave Motorola Mobility a tough pill to swallow on Monday when it invalidated the company's proximity sensor patent. The ruling killed the last remaining patent in Motorola's 2010 infringement lawsuit against Apple, and shot down Google's hopes of eventually winning an iPhone import ban.

ITC says Motorola's proximity sensor patent is invalidITC says Motorola's proximity sensor patent is invalid

The patent in question, 6,246,862, described a "sensor controlled user interface for portable communication device" that could ignore screen touches based on how close it was to a user's head. The other patents in the case were invalidated in August 2012.

Google, who now owns Motorola Mobility, will most likely appeal the ruling where it will have to convince the court that the proximity sensor patent isn't obvious and is novel. Judge Pender, who issued the original ruling, said the patent lacked novelty, and while the ITC panel didn't completely agree with all of the findings in the Judge's ruling, it agreed that the patent wasn't valid.

Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents commented,

In its final decision rendered today the Commission basically just modified Judge Pender's invalidity finding. It disagreed with him that the aforementioned earlier-filed Motorola patent in and of itself anticipates (renders non-novel) the patent-in-suit. But it agreed with Apple on two other invalidity theories involving the same patent and found the patent obvious over the earlier-filed Motorola patent in combination with either common general knowledge or another patent.

The ruling derailed Motorola and Google's patent fight since now their case against Apple is stalled while going through the appeal process, which doesn't guarantee a reversal. Assuming Google can convince the appeals court to find that the patent actually is valid, the overall patent infringement case will likely be dead in the water until some time in 2014.