(An example of a redacted document is shown.)  (Source: Getty Images)
Trial will be held 16 mi from Redmond; home court has already granted Microsoft key victories in legal battle

When U.S. District Judge James Robart of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington makes his final ruling in the legal battle between Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Google Inc. (GOOG), it's entirely possible that the public won't be able to read parts of the ruling -- or all of it.

I. Gotta Redact Them All

That's because the Judge Robart has agreed to several requests from Google to redact sensitive details in pre-trial briefs regarding business contracts of its subsidiary -- veteran phonemaker Motorola Mobility.  Judge Robart did warn Google that he might get tougher on the issue, if he feels Google is using secrecy request in an abusive manner.

The federal judge has yet to rule on Google's biggest request, which is to redact any discussion of royalties from the verdict, to clear the courtroom of reporters during portions of the trial discussing royalties, and redacting information about its rates in other key courtroom documents.

Google argues that allowing the information to go public would give its rivals "additional leverage and bargaining power and would lead to an unfair advantage."

The trial kicks off two Tuesdays from this week, on Nov. 13th.

The case involves claims by Microsoft that its software patents cover key pieces of Google Android operating system.  Google, meanwhile, wants to force Microsoft into favorable licensing agreements of its wireless and video codec patents.

Motorola handsets
Google says the release of information on Motorola's licensing deals would be damaging.
[Image Source: PocketLint]

A jury will decide the Microsoft portion of the case, while Google's royalty demands will be decided directly by Judge Robart.

II. Redactions are Growing in the Smartphone War

Google is not alone in its request for secrecy.  Both Apple, Inc. (AAPL) and Google have been actively filing secrecy requests in their pending court case re-try, which is now being kicked around in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin under the jurisdiction of Judge Barbara Crabb.

The Judge told Reuters that while she is now asking the pair to ask permission before filing redacted documents, that most requests are summarily approved, commenting, "We're paddling madly to stay afloat."

Indeed, the courts have been struggling with limited resources and a barrage of documents ever since the smartphone wars consumed the federal court system.

While legal experts agree that there is some precedent to redacting sensitive details in corporate cases, many argue that the new secrecy defeats the idea of a public court.  

Top secret
Some legal experts argue allowing excessive redaction discourages settlements and wastes taxpayer money.

Professor Dennis Crouch, who teaches intellectual property law at the University of Missouri School of Law, argues that forcing disclosure of sensitive details has long been a driving incentive for settlement and peacemaking, which saves taxpayer money and court resources.  He comments, "There are plenty of cases that have settled because one party didn't want their information public."

In the most high profile case of the smartphone wars, Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Android phonemaker Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930) and Apple could hide certain sensitive details of their financials.  However, she did not allow the companies to hide their licensing relationships, which led to the release of rather interesting details regarding Apple and Microsoft's cross-licensing pact.

Microsoft and Google have both supported each other in their redaction requests, a sort of gentleman's agreement in their legal war, so to speak.  However, Microsoft has not yet voiced its support for Google's largest filing to Judge Robart.

III. With Trial in Washington, Microsoft Has Home Court Advantage

So far Google v. Microsoft has gone heavily in Microsoft's favor. While the federal court in Microsoft's home state of Washington ruled that it was fine for Microsoft to enforce a sales ban in Germany on Motorola's products, that will likely lead to the destruction of existing handset stock, the court forbid Motorola from enforcing a nearly identical ban.  

Seattle Washington Wide
The case is being tried in Seattle, Washington, just 16 miles from Microsoft's headquarters.  The local court has already said it's okay for Microsoft to ban/destroy Motorola's products overseas, but not okay for Motorola to do the same. [Image Source: Foreclosure Listings]

The court gave little explanation as to why it allowed its local software giant to damage its competitor, but decided the exact opposite when Motorola had the opportunity to damage the local firm.

As Microsoft v. Motorola is being tried in Washington, Microsoft may be on the receiving end of some special favoritism, if the seeming contradictory pass verdicts are any indication.

Source: Reuters

“We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” -- Steve Jobs

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