Motorola Wins Apple Injunction in Germany; Impact Vague

Apple vs. MotorolaIn yet another international patent case, Motorola Mobility won a preliminary injunction against Apple in Germany Friday, after Apple failed to appear in court to defend against charges that its products infringe on two Motorola patents related to wireless technology. The injunction prohibits Apple Inc. from selling products that offend the Motorola patents in Germany.

Apple Inc., the well-known parent company that does direct operations within many countries does not sell products in Germany. Instead, Apple has created a subsidiary, Apple Germany, to handle its sales and support within that country. Due to the peculiar nature of the decision, a default judgment, there has been much speculation on what the immediate impact on Apple will be.

Motorola filed suit in this case against both Apple Inc. and Apple Germany. Friday’s decision was only against Apple Inc.; the case involving Apple Germany carries on.

As a result, only Apple Inc. is enjoined from selling products that infringe upon the Motorola patents in dispute. Nilay Patel of The Verge therefore argued that Friday’s ruling is “totally symbolic,” as “there aren’t any products to ban” that are sold in Germany by Apple Inc.

Apple Inc. appears to share Mr. Patel’s assessment. “This is a procedural issue that has nothing to do with the merits of the case. This does not affect our ability to sell products or do business in Germany at this time,” the company said in a prepared statement commenting on the decision.

However, Florian Mueller at FOSS Patents, who was the first to comment on the ruling, disagrees with both Apple and Mr. Patel. He notes that there is danger to Apple if subsequent rulings determine Apple Inc. to be selling products in Germany. Mr. Mueller supports his position by noting that Apple’s German website is registered to Apple Inc., and not Apple Germany, potentially interrupting service of the website and any orders or shipments derived through it.

After conferring with German lawyers, Mr. Mueller believes that “the default judgment against Apple Inc. of Cupertino would have very near-term business impact unless Apple wins a suspension,” and “Apple’s German business also depends on Apple Inc. being unrestricted to do business in Germany.”

While Apple is likely to win a suspension of the injunction should the company choose to pursue it, the Cupertino company must move quickly to satisfy filing requirements of Germany’s courts. 

As for why Apple failed to appear, there exists no clear answer. A number of theories suggest everything from Apple’s lawyers simply missing the court date to a strategic move on Apple’s part to draw out the case while it waits to introduce additional evidence. 

It is important to note that Motorola Mobility, although operating under its own name, is in the midst of being acquired by Google, Apple’s chief rival in both smartphones and patent disputes. While Friday’s decision is far from the end of the story, perhaps Apple’s official response will shed some light on its rationale and whether it relates to its Mountain View competitor.