Apple Inc. and Google Inc. (GOOG)’s 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 after rejecting reports from each company’s experts on damages, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said in an opinion posted today on it website. The court did say that Motorola Mobility wouldn’t be able to block Apple sales based on its only patent remaining in the case.
The case is one of several between Apple and Motorola Mobility. 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 a trove of about 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 involve features that the Cupertino, California-based company says make it easier to use the iPhone and iPad tablet. 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.
The third Apple patent also is being asserted against Samsung Electronics Co. in a trial that started this month in federal court in San Jose, California. Samsung lawyers argued today that the trial judge should follow the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of the patent, which could alter presentations.
District Court Judge Lucy Koh told the jurors that additional testimony may be needed on April 28. The jury is expected to begin deliberations next week.
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. Matt Kallman, a spokesman for Google’s Motorola Mobility, said the company had no comment.
Motorola Mobility said that it was entitled to block sales of Apple’s patents because Apple has been unwilling to pay 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.
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. (AAPL) 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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