Apple Loses Ruling in Patent Case Against Motorola Mobility

Apple Inc. (AAPL) lost a ruling in a case where it accused phonemaker Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. (MMI) of patent infringement, a setback for efforts to prove that devices running Google Inc.’s Android operating system copy the iPhone.

Motorola Mobility, a maker of Android smartphones that agreed to be bought by Google for $12.5 billion, didn’t violate Apple’s rights on three patents, U.S. International Trade Commission Judge Theodore Essex in Washington said in an initial determination today without elaborating on his findings. Two of the patents related to touch-screen technology.

The case has been part of a broader battle that Cupertino, California-based Apple is waging across four continents against makers of phones that run on Android, which the company claims copies features of the iPhone. Apple received a mixed ruling in a trade commission case against Taoyuan, Taiwan-based HTC Corp. last month, and is awaiting decisions on additional complaints against HTC and Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung Electronics Co.

Notice of the Motorola Mobility decision was posted on the agency’s website, with the full opinion traditionally to be released after companies redact confidential data. The judge’s findings are subject to review by the six-member commission, which can block imports of products that infringe U.S. patents.

While Apple is the largest manufacturer of smartphones, accounting for about 29 percent of the market, Mountain View, California-based Google’s Android, which is licensed for free to device makers, powers more than half the world’s smartphones, according to data from Gartner Inc. and Nielsen Holdings NV.

Droid X, BackFlip

Motorola Mobility, which was spun off from Motorola Inc. last year and then later agreed to be bought by Google, filed three patent lawsuits and an ITC complaint in October 2010 targeting Apple’s iPhone, iPad and MacBook. Apple retaliated about three weeks later with the ITC complaint that zeroed in on Libertyville, Illinois-based Motorola Mobility’s Droid, Droid 2, Droid X, Cliq, BackFlip, Devour and Charm phones.

Motorola Mobility was accused by Apple of infringing three patents, including two that cover touch screen technology.

One Apple patent issued in October 2010 and expiring in 2019 is for devices that can react to different types of manual input, such as tapping, sliding or pinching. A second, issued in February 2010 and expiring in 2024, is for a touch panel that can recognize multiple touches by the fingers of a user.

The third patent, which was issued in 1995 and expires in 2013, is for a way to add components without having to run an installation program or rebooting.

Microsoft Case

A trade commission judge in Motorola Mobility’s case against Apple is scheduled to release his findings April 23.

The companies also have filed civil suits against each other on other patents, with one trial scheduled to begin in April in federal court in Chicago.

Motorola Mobility also is fighting with Microsoft Corp. over patented technology. Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft claims Motorola Mobility refuses to pay royalties for use of patented technology, while Motorola Mobility has accused Microsoft of infringing patents on video-game systems.

Judge Essex last month said that Motorola Mobility infringed one Microsoft patent, and cleared it of violating six others. Both companies have filed petitions asking the commission to review the judge’s determination.

The Apple case is In the Matter of Mobile Devices and Related Software, 337-750, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

To contact the reporters on this story: Susan Decker in Washington at sdecker1@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at mshepard7@bloomberg.net

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