Print 42 comment(s) - last by melgross.. on Aug 2 at 1:49 PM

Court finds Android phonemaker in violation of Microsoft file system patent, orders handset destruction

There's been another casualty in Germany, the most ban-friendly battleground of the mobile patent war: Motorola Mobility's flagship Android smartphones.

I. Motorola Handsets Slated for Destruction

In a ruling by the Mannheim Regional Court, Motorola Mobility was found to infringe on Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) "FAT patent" -- EP0578205  (A2), a patent that covers a "multiple file name referencing system".

The decision came after a judge in the same court awarded Motorola with a ban on Microsoft's Windows and Xbox 360 in Germany after he found that Microsoft had violated two of Motorola's patents on the h.264 video standard.  The same German court has also banned Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iCloud service for a separate infringement against Motorola, and has banned Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KSC:005930Galaxy Tab 7.7 for an alleged design infringement against the 9.7-inch iPad.

Banning Windows or an entire smartphone lineup may seem bizarre by American standards, but its par for the course in Germany.  The nation has slightly lower criteria for banning products in cases of probable infringement.  The country also carries out infringement and patent invalidity queries along separate tracks, making it harder to avoid a ban by invalidating a bad patent.  Combined, these subtle difference sum to a "ban first ask question later" policy that is unusual even by European Union standards.

The Motorola Atrix 4G is among the Android handsets slated for destruction under a punitive German court ruling. [Image Source: Philip Kamrass/ Times Union]

The latest ruling, which pertains to Microsoft's ubiquitous File Allocation Table (FAT) file system, is among the more severe as Motorola has been ordered to recall all its smartphones with the technology and surrender all its stock.  The handsets will be destroyed as per the court order.

Court spokesman Joachim Bock says Motorola will also have to pay Microsoft damages for all the handsets it has sold.  Microsoft will have to pay a bond, he added, to enforce the preliminary ruling.  He commented, "If Microsoft wants to execute the decision now, they will have to pay a security deposit which is between 10 and 30 million euro."

(€10M = $12.25M USD; €30M = $36.75M USD;)

II. Microsoft: A Questionable Ally; a Dangerous Enemy

Microsoft cheered the ruling, commenting:

Today's decision, which follows similar rulings in the U.S. and Germany, is further proof that Motorola Mobility is broadly infringing Microsoft's intellectual property.

Among its handsets that to be destroyed are its flagship models -- the Motorola Atrix, the Droid Razr, and the Droid Razr Maxx.  The company in May became a subunit of Google, Inc. (GOOG) and continues to lose money despite Google's hopes for a turnaround.

Motorola, however, is likely to appeal this damaging ruling. A representative for the company released the following statement to AllThingsD:

We are in [the] process of reviewing the ruling, and will explore all of our options, including appeal. We don’t anticipate an impact on our operations at this time.

In the U.S., a final ruling the Motorola Mobile v. Microsoft battle has been delayed.  One Judge in a preliminary examination recommended banning Microsoft's Xbox 360 from sale in the U.S.  A separate U.S. International Trade Commission three judge panel has suggested banning the import of all Motorola Mobility smartphones on the ground of a different patent --  U.S. Patent No. 6,370,566 -- a patent which covers scheduling meetings on a mobile device.

Microsoft sign
Microsoft has declined to protects its licensees from its partner Apple. [Image Source: BGR]

Microsoft has urged Android smartphone makers to license its large portfolio of mobile patents.  Both HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) and Samsung complied, paying between $10 and $15 USD per device.  However, Microsoft has thus far declined to protect its licensees against Apple, another large mobile patent holder who itself is party to a cross-licensing pact with Microsoft.

In other words, Microsoft makes a pretty poor ally, but it makes a dangerous enemy presenting Android phonemakers with a difficult decision.  Motorola decided to gamble and refuse to license, and now it's preparing to pay the ultimate price in Germany.

Sources: ComputerWorld, AllThingsD

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By melgross on 7/30/2012 12:18:51 PM , Rating: 1
I'm happy to see this. I don't agree that patents should be eliminated. People who think this don't understand the nature of what they do. My old company had 43 patents. Twice, we caught other companies using our IP, and we took them to court. We won both cases. It's simply wrong for another company to use your IP without at least an attempt to license it.

We didn't license, because we developed our IP for our own use, as so we stopped them from using ours. The entire concept behind patents is to get others to do their own R&D. If a patent isn't out to license, or if a company thinks the fee is too high (this doesn't apply to FRAND patents), then it's their business to try to find a way around it. That's the way innovation happens. It doesn't happen with companies taking IP that already exists and using it for free.

These days, where so many people think that they are entitled to whatever they want, the understanding of the patent system is at a low. The problem for companies is that there are so many patents in this age of sophistication, that companies often miss a patent when they do their work, so some company pops up after a few years of them using it, and demands payment. Or a company thinks a patent isn't valid, and so uses the work without paying. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're wrong.

I read an estimate that a smartphone these days can involve 350,000 patents. Most of those are in large pools, so they're easy to license, but many are not, so they have to be negotiated individually. And some are not up for licensing. Both Motorola and Samsung are being investigated for FRAND abuse both here and in the EU, because they agreed to license those patents equitably, but are targeting Apple and a few other companies outside of that agreement.

No question this is a mess, but people complain that Chinese companies steal the work of others. Those same people should also complain when western companies steal the work of others too, if they are going to be fair about it.

RE: License
By geddarkstorm on 7/30/2012 12:50:24 PM , Rating: 3
It's not patents that are a problem, they are an important part of the economy as you say. But it's what's being allowed to be patented that's the problem, and the punishments for infringement in this German court.

We consumers are being robbed a great deal of our products because of patents that say a 7.7" tablet is infringing on the look of a 9.7" and causing consumer confusion? Really? You could confuse the two?

Or that an ancient, ubiquitous file system like FAT is somehow worthy of destroying headsets? At what point does something become so ancient and standard as to no longer be protectable under a patent? And banning Windows/Xbox360 because of h.264 codecs, which could easily just be disabled with an update, or replaced with an (yes, likely slightly inferior) alternative?

The punishments just don't fit the crime, so to speak, and it's really getting out of hand. We are the ones losing the most.

RE: License
By Ammohunt on 7/30/2012 2:01:14 PM , Rating: 2
Or that an ancient, ubiquitous file system like FAT is somehow worthy of destroying headsets?(sic)

FAT was used by Motorola to specifically allow access to their handsets by Microsoft based Operating systems. Microsoft made ahuge investment in making FAT ubiquitous and there is a ton of value there still! $10 a handset is reasonable for that functionality and is usually passed down to the consumer anyway.

RE: License
By geddarkstorm on 7/30/2012 2:35:01 PM , Rating: 3
That is reasonable. But what isn't reasonable is physically destroying handsets because they can interface with Windows via FAT. You can just ban imports till licensing issues are fixed, or till Motorola updates with a non-FAT method. There are far more rational decisions, and the punishment is way over the top. That's my whole point.

RE: License
By homebredcorgi on 7/30/2012 1:05:58 PM , Rating: 2
And what did your company do? That's great, (in theory) that's how patents are supposed to work. But you ignore the vast misuse of the system in which companies are using the system to stifle each other

Here are the main problems:
1. Patent quality is very poor.
- Patents are purposefully written in a vague manner so that they cover more than they should.
- Two conditions of a patent that are rarely addressed are the issue of prior art and "obviousness" - which our current patent system appears to ignore completely. Not to mention you can patent anything - even devices that clearly do not work, such as perpetual motion machines.
- As a result of the above, literally tens of thousands of patents overlap each other or are patents on the same idea/concept. This is particularly acute for software patents.
2. Software, in general is too vague to conceptualize in a patent. It should be covered by copyright law.
- Most programmers decry software patents
- The nature of software means it is extremely easy to patent a concept and even easier for it to be copied
- Examples of somewhat silly software patents: Mouse-over pop-up text on websites, Amazon's 1-click ordering
3. Large companies are outright purchasing bundles of patents in anticipation of future litigation. It has turned into an arms-race.
- The hope was that each company would have so many patents that overlap each other, litigation would be too costly. Oops.
- Smaller inventors/companies can't afford to purchase a massive trove of patents and will often settle any litigation (even if they fully believe they are in the right) because they can't afford it. See patent trolls.
- The use of patents as a litigation tool does not foster innovation and goes counter to what the patent system's intended use.

Most readers here are against software patents specifically and the outright purchase of others' patents solely for use in litigation. This is what we decry when we say the system is broken.

RE: License
By JediJeb on 7/30/2012 6:57:20 PM , Rating: 3
3. Large companies are outright purchasing bundles of patents in anticipation of future litigation. It has turned into an arms-race.

This is what should be stopped. A very very simple way to do so would be to make the patents non transferable. If an entity patents an idea, then that idea is the property of that entity as long as that entity exist(person or company)then upon death of a person or dissolution of a company that holds a patent, that patent becomes public domain. During the time the patent is valid, the patent owner can license it however they wish, and they are legally protected from having others use their patents without permission.

This alone would put a huge dent in the patent trolling business since only someone with the ability to develop something worthy of being patented would be able to obtain patents, and most would not spend the money to develop them if they were not going to actually use them in some fashion.

RE: License
By melgross on 7/30/2012 7:36:42 PM , Rating: 2
My company was a manufacturer of professional audio equipment for broadcast stations, recording studios, disco's, etc. pretty expensive stuff.

A problem with writing a patent is that if it's written too narrowly, then it's too easy to come up with something that's almost exactly the same without doing any work. If the patent is too narrow, it may not cover anything useful, meaning that variances in equipment would require numerous extensions to the patent over the years which becomes very time consuming, and expensive.

Obviously, ifyou invent something, you want to prevent your close competitors from building something similar enough so as to negate your own work.

Prior art is dependant on what that means. If someone comes up with an idea for something, but does little, or nothing at all, to advance that idea towards a useful completeness, then is that prior art? I don't think so. A lot of people posting on the Internet don't realize that an article about some idea is not prior art.

I find the concept of obviousness to be the must amusing, and frustrating part of this. If an industry has been around for some decades, and no one has come up with invention "A" until one particular person does, then can it truly be said, in hindsight, that it was "obvious"? No, it can't. Yet, I read postings from people who have never invented anything, saying how obvious something is. They have no idea just how difficult it is to invent. But it's extremely easy to armchair someone else's invention. That's particularly true if someone dislikes a particular company whose invention it is.

I see nothing wrong with software patents. I really don't understand why some people are against them, other than it prevents their favorite company from getting something for free. Software is no different from electronics, mechanics, or whatever. It's just another way of doing something.

What I do think needs modifying is the length of software patents. 20 years is too long for software. I proposed, some years ago, that it be shortened to 10 years, possibly even 7. That would eliminate most of the problems associated with them.

There's also nothing wrong with purchasing patents. When the founder of our company decided to retire, we made a decision to sell the company. The main reason we found a buyer at a good price was because of our patents. Are you saying that they shouldn't have been allowed to buy us and use the time left on out patents? That wouldn't be fair. Patents, and the companies that own them are allowed to be sold, and should be, as they are property.

What hinders innovation is when companies don't spend money on their own R&D, and use other's work for their own. By not paying those others for their work, it's also not fair to the owners of the work, and that's whether it was invented "here" or bought from somewhere else. As far as small companies go, that always been a problem, and it always will. But most small companies come into existence BECAUSE the founder(s) came up with a new invention, and patented it.

Let's look at Google, as an example. When Larry Paige was at Stanford, he invented what is popularly known as the "page turn patent". As usual, the rights resolve to the university, as it was there that the work was done. When he left to found Google, he, and Google's lawyers negotiated a license for that patent. Now, Google could have negotiated a non exclusive license, so that any other search company could use that patent, but they didn't. They negotiated an exclusive patent, so only they could use the work. This patent gave them, and still does, a big advantage over other search engines, and allowed Google to exist with Yahoo, AOL, and others that were around longer, and were far bigger.

If these other companies could have used this patent, it's a very good chance that Google would never have become the company it is, and Yahoo could be the elephant in the search business, or even AOL, or someone else.

This has been true thousands of times. So patents not only help small companies get started, but force entirely new industries to be formed with entirely new companies pushing the older ones out of the way. This is a GOOD thing.

The problem the patent system has is that it costs money, big money, to hire patent examiners who are expert in the various areas. This is a problem because it comes out of taxes (and the fees companies pay). Who wants to pay more taxes? That's the main problem.

RE: License
By sprockkets on 7/30/2012 1:05:58 PM , Rating: 2
So what patent did you have to take someone to court over?

To add to the stuff going on, even Moto found prior art over the method described in Microsoft's FAT patent. Not sure if that helped here, cause it didn't for the ITC.

It's actually very easy to get around it, and there already is a patch made years ago for the Linux kernel to do just that.

As for MS suing over making multipart SMS messages appear as one on the other end, that's just BS.

RE: License
By Belard on 7/30/2012 4:20:12 PM , Rating: 2
And Linux doesn't even need FAT... but FAT is used for flash memory so that its compatible with Windows if the user wants to xfer data...

Hmmm, maybe that is why more and more phones don't have up-gradable memory slots?

RE: License
By melgross on 7/31/2012 10:48:07 AM , Rating: 2
Patents related to bass response of a speaker system for one. The other is more difficult to explain, but relates to RF circuitry.

The "getting around it" is one of the entire points of patents. That how we get real progress, by making people think of other, or better ways, not just copying what's already been done.

"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki