Google Seeks Court Reversal of Mobile Phone Import Ban

Google Inc.’s Motorola Mobility told a U.S. appeals court today a Microsoft Corp. patent that led to an import ban on its phones is the “poster child” for common ideas being applied to new devices and labeled an invention.

“Simply saying ‘on a mobile device’ is not an invention,” Motorola Mobility lawyer Charles Verhoeven, of Quinn Emanuel in San Francisco, said today.

Microsoft’s patent for a way phones synchronize calendars with computers is little different than techniques used by Apple Inc.’s failed Newton personal digital assistant of the 1990s, or Microsoft’s desktop software, Verhoeven said.

Motorola Mobility is seeking to invalidate the patent that it concedes it has infringed. The U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington issued an import ban in May 2012 after finding that Motorola Mobility devices violated the patent.

The commission rejected infringement claims on four other patents, and Microsoft appealed that part of the case in a second argument heard today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The patent is part of Microsoft’s ActiveSync software that Motorola Mobility used to license before the two companies started fighting.

The case is part of a broader argument by Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft that Google’s market-dominant Android operating system uses its technology. Motorola Mobility, which was aquired by Google in 2012, is one of the biggest holdouts of a licensing program that Microsoft started three years ago.

Unique Application

While the synchronization was common with computers, software engineers who thought “wouldn’t it be great to have this on a mobile device” were initially prevented by their limited power, said Microsoft lawyer Constantine Trela, of Sidley Austin in Chicago.

“The patent comes up with the solution,” he told the three-judge Federal Circuit panel in Washington.

Google’s Android operating system is the most popular platform for smartphones. Strategy Analytics Inc., a Newton Centre, Massachusetts, research firm, on Aug. 1 said 80 percent of the 156.5 million smartphones sold worldwide in the second quarter ran on Android.

Microsoft’s system, used in Nokia Oyj’s Lumia phones, was third with 4 percent behind Apple’s 14 percent.

Microsoft said Windows Phone revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30 rose $1.2 billion, which includes both sales of handsets running Windows and license revenue from sales of Android phones. The company didn’t break out how much of the increase came from each category and didn’t provide total sales.

Moto X

Google, based in Mountain View, California, is seeking to revive Motorola Mobility’s smartphone business. On Aug. 1 it announced a new flagship Moto X smartphone with customizable colors that will be assembled in the U.S. -- probably putting it outside the ITC’s jurisdiction.

Microsoft contends any Motorola Mobility phone that has the syncing feature infringes the patent, and has sued U.S. Customs, saying its officials aren’t stopping phones from crossing the U.S. border.

The four patents that the agency said weren’t infringed relate to mobile computing and drop-down menus on screens. Microsoft, in a filing with the agency, said they cover “such basic computer technology as application synchronization and user interface enhancements, as well as innovations particularly directed to mobile computing.”

In its filing, Google said it didn’t use the Microsoft technology covered by those patents. Google also said Microsoft hadn’t fulfilled the ITC requirement that it show the software maker used the technology, too, a condition unique to the agency.

Xbox Case

A Motorola Mobility case against Microsoft, seeking to block imports of the Xbox video-gaming system, failed at the ITC and is on appeal. In connection with that case, Microsoft has accused Motorola Mobility of demanding unreasonable fees on fundamental technology used in many electronics. A trial on Microsoft’s claims that Motorola Mobility breached its obligations to license its standard-essential patents on fair terms is scheduled for later this month in Seattle.

The cases are Microsoft Corp. v. ITC, 12-1445, and Motorola Mobility LLC v. ITC, 12-1535, both U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington). The ITC case is In the Matter of Certain Mobile Devices, Associated Software and Components Thereof, 337-744, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

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