ITC: Google vs Apple preliminary win reviewed, iPhone and iPad import bans on the table?
The Apple vs Android legal war is so complex that unless you follow it closely, you’re prone to get lost in translation and soon give up trying to keep up with who is suing who and why, and who’s scoring more wins and where.
Essentially, Apple sued the main players in the Android business so far including Samsung, Motorola and HTC for alleged patent infringement, but it didn’t go directly after Google. In turn, the three Android makers countersued Apple individually, bringing their own patents to the fight, and Google watched from the sidelines, deciding not to sue Apple directly – it did try to provide some ammunition to HTC, but the patents it shared with the Taiwanese company were shot down in court recently.
[Update: One of our readers points out that Motorola sued Apple first, which is true. The company sued Apple in October 2010, but Apple sued Motorola back during the same month.]
Since Google completed its extraordinarily expensive $12.5 billion Motorola purchase back in May, it found itself involved in a plethora of legal battles, with Apple but also with Microsoft.
When Google announced its plans to acquire Motorola last year, analysts and members of the media speculated on the fact that the Search giant is willing to pay $12.5 billion for the company in order to arm itself with a huge collection of patents, many of them essential for the cell phone business. At the time the purchase offer was made, the Apple vs Android legal war was raging on, so it seemed logical to see Motorola’s patents as important defensive and offensive weapons against Apple, and anyone else that would attack Android.
But now that Google has inherited all of Motorola’s legal predicaments, the Search giant is far from putting that impressive patent collection to good use. We’re certainly interested to see whether the conflict with Apple will further escalate, or whether the two companies will find a common ground in the near future and reach a settlement.
Meanwhile, Apple and Google are basically suing each other in various courts, both in the U.S. and in Europe, and this fight may become one of the most important battles yet in the mobile environment now that Google is directly involved.
Earlier this week, a Federal Judge decided to dismiss an Apple case against Motorola (and therefore Google) with prejudice, meaning that neither party can refile the suit in a Federal court. Both companies asked for an injunction against the other’s products, with Apple having four patents left in the fight against one of Motorola’s. At the time, Judge Posner revealed his opposition to awarding injunctions to any company based on FRAND patents, or standards-essential patents. And that Motorola patent used in the trial is a FRAND patent.
Why is this important to know? Well, Motorola scored a victory against Apple back in April at the International Trade Commission before being purchased by Google. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Thomas Pender found in his initial determination that Apple was infringing a 3G patent owned by Motorola. The patent, one of the four Motorola attacked with in this complaint with the ITC, targeted Apple’s iOS devices including the iPhone and the iPad. This patent is a FRAND patent as well, but not the same one Motorola used in Federal Court against Apple.
The ALJ’s initial finding was not a final decision, and the final ruling of the Commission can overturn it. In fact, Bloomberg on Monday reported that the ITC decided to review the ALJ’s initial determination and issue a final ruling on August 24.
In theory, in case Google will win this battle, the ITC can award an import ban against iPhones and iPads, which would mean that Apple would not be able to bring the devices that are manufactured in China to the U.S. anymore. In case that sounds familiar, that’s what happened with HTC in one of its legal fights with Apple. The iPhone maker won an import ban with that “data tapping” patent – a patent it also uses against Motorola and Samsung in other suits. Also worth mentioning is that Apple and HTC are still arguing on the matter, as Apple claims that more HTC devices continue to infringe that patent, and therefore the product ban should cover 29 more devices including the HTC EVO 4G LTE and the HTC One X. That only goes to show how complicated these ITC trials are, and how product import bans affect the companies involved in these lawsuits.
But Google’s ITC complaint is slightly different as it’s based on a single patent, and that one is a standards-essential patent. Motorola is already investigated in the European Union for its FRAND patent use in such patent-based trials, right alongside Samsung, and it’s probably unlikely to see major injunctions and/or import bans on FRAND patents alone.
Moreover, various third parties formally voiced their support for Apple and Microsoft in their defending ITC cases against FRAND patents owned by Motorola including U.S. senators and Congressmen, the United States Federal Trade Commission, HP, Nokia, Intel, AT&T, Verizon, IBM, Activision Blizzard, Cisco and others.
With all that in mind, we can’t but wonder what the ITC ruling will be, but considering what’s at play and the fact that Google is only relying on one FRAND patent in this fight, an iPhone and iPad import ban seems highly unlikely. And, for the sake of the argument, the same goes for Microsoft products including the Xbox gaming console, which is targeted by Google in a different ITC case. But the two companies may end up licensing the technology from Google, or enter other settlements with the Search giant.
We’ll be back with more details about this ITC Google vs Apple case, as the two companies will have to answer to various questions from the Commission in the following months (see PDF file at the Source link below), many of them referring specifically to FRAND patents and whether they’re suitable for such import ban requests.