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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



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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
quote:
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.


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