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

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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.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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