Apple Inc.’s patent-infringement lawsuit against Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Motorola Mobility unit was tentatively dismissed by a federal judge four days before it was scheduled to go to trial.
U.S. Judge Richard A. Posner in Chicago today rejected each side’s damages claims at what was to be the last hearing before a June 11 trial. Posner later said he wouldn’t hold a hearing on Apple’s request for an order blocking alleged Motorola Mobility infringement.
“I have tentatively decided that the case should be dismissed with prejudice because neither party can establish a right to relief,” Posner said in a two-page written order, adding that he would delay entering final judgment until he writes a lengthier decision. “I may change my mind.”
Apple’s iPhones are the world’s most popular smartphones with a 20-percent market share, according to Framingham, Massachusetts-based International Data Corp., while 60 percent of smartphones use Google’s Android operating system, making it the world’s most widely-used platform.
Posner’s ruling shelves what would have been the first patent trial between them since Mountain View, California-based Google completed its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. last month.
Apple’s lawyer, Matthew Powers, declined to immediately comment on the judge’s ruling after the hearing, as did Motorola Mobility’s attorney, Stephen Swedlow.
Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Cupertino, California- based Apple, declined to comment on the judge’s ruling. Jim Prosser, a spokesman for Google, said he couldn’t immediately comment.
Apple had accused Motorola Mobility of infringing four of its computer-related patents, some of which appear in Motorola’s Droid-branded mobile phones and in its Xoom tablet.
Motorola Mobility was pursuing a single claim against Apple concerning its cellular communications technology.
The trial judge serves as an evidentiary gatekeeper for the jury, said David B. Sunshine, a New York patent attorney who has been following the case. Posner’s rejection of each sides’ damages theories shows he didn’t believe the parties’ expert methodology was reasonable, and that jurors shouldn’t hear it.
“Most of the time courts let the jury decide, especially on a damages expert,” said Sunshine, a partner in Philadelphia- based Cozen O’Connor. “You just don’t see that thing kind of often, but he must have really had a problem.”
Sunshine, who is not involved in the case, said the court’s rejection of the damages estimate wasn’t indicative of an error by either side.
“These experts gave their opinion and the judge didn’t buy it,” he said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of second- guessing.”
While Posner initially told the parties today he wouldn’t consider a request for an order to restrain one side from infringing another’s patent, he changed his mind after hearing arguments from Powers.
“The act of infringement is itself injury,” Powers told the judge.
Motorola Mobility’s Swedlow disagreed, saying that absent a showing of injury there was no remedy and no entitlement to injunctive relief.
“There is no case or controversy,” Swedlow said. Motorola Mobility had itself sought about $347 million in damages, its attorney said today.
Ultimately, the judge decided against an injunction hearing.
The costs of such an order would be disproportionate to the patent holders’ harm, the alleged infringer’s benefit and “would be contrary to the public interest,” Posner, a circuit court judge presiding over the district court case, said in his order.
“I’m sorry that it seems to be petering out like this,” he told the lawyers in court at the hearing’s end.
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