Apple vs. Google fight back on

Apple Inc.(NYSE:AAPL) and Google Inc.’s(NYSE:GOOG) Motorola Mobility can pursue claims the other infringed smartphone technology patents after a U.S. appeals court in Washington ruled a judge wrongly threw out the case.

A federal judge in Chicago dismissed the claims because he didn’t like their damages experts and didn’t believe they could block each other’s products, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said in an opinion posted on the court’s website. The court did affirm the trial judge’s ruling that Motorola Mobility wouldn’t be able to block Apple sales based on one of its patents.

The case is one of several between Apple and Google’s Motorola Mobility unit. Neither one has been able to strike a significant blow against the other, despite lawsuits in the U.S. and Germany. Google inherited the case when it bought Motorola Mobility to obtain its trove of some 17,000 patents and applications that could be used to hit back at Apple’s claims of copying in phones that run on Google’s Android operating system.

The three Apple patents in the appeal involve features that the Cupertino, California-based company says make it easier to use the iPhone and iPad tablet computer. One involves touchscreen technology, a second makes it easier for developers to make applications that stream audio and video, and the third gives customers options, like whether to call or store a telephone number.

Industry Standards

Motorola Mobility, which helped pioneer the mobile-phone market in the 1980s, accused Apple of infringing three patents related to industrywide standards for how data is transmitted over phone and Wi-Fi networks. The federal circuit affirmed that Apple didn’t infringe two of those patents.

Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who normally presides on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, canceled a trial after ruling the damages testimony from both sides inadmissible. Even if either company won, they wouldn’t be entitled to an order blocking sales of the other company’s products, he said.

Apple argued it should be able to block Motorola products because the patents relate to features that differentiate the iPhone from competing products. It said Motorola Mobility shouldn’t be entitled to block Apple sales based on infringement of patents used in industry standards.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple, said the company had no comment. Officials with Mountain View, California-based Google didn’t immediately reply to queries seeking comment.

Complex Devices

Motorola Mobility said that it was entitled to block sales of Apple’s patents because Apple has been unwilling to license the technology. Apple, however, shouldn’t get a sales block on complex devices based on an infringement finding over features that don’t drive sales of the devices, Motorola Mobility argued.

Two of the three Federal Circuit judges agreed that Motorola Mobility wasn’t entitled to block sales because the harm could be addressed with money. Chief Judge Randall Rader said there was evidence that Apple was an unwilling licensee.

None of the judges favored a complete prohibition of such orders when it comes to standard-essential patents, saying instead judges should follow a 2006 Supreme Court decision outlining how to handle such requests in all types of patent cases.

Both companies also defended their expert reports on damages, while saying the other side had provided a faulty analysis. The court said Posner was wrong to say neither company was entitled to any damages. The three-judge panel affirmed the judge on some of his interpretations of the patents, while saying he was wrong on Apple’s patent for touchscreen technology.

Patent Politics

The appeal featured the rare instance of appellate judges from different circuits debating patent law. Posner has publicly criticized the patent system, though his court doesn’t handle patent cases. Rader, whose Federal Circuit handles all patent appeals, in a 2012 speech said Posner was wrong.

The appeals court case is Apple Inc. v. Motorola Inc., 12-1548, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington). The lower court case is Apple Inc. v. Motorola Inc., 11cv8540, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).‘

 

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