How Big a Wallop Could Moto Give Apple With ITC Patent Complaint?
Aug 21, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Google's Motorola Mobility has complained to the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) that Apple has infringed upon seven of its patents.
The Droid maker is seeking an ITC ban on the importation of all affected Apple products.
That would include the iPod touch; the iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S; the iPad 2; the Mac Pro; the iMac; the Mac mini; the Macbook Pro; the MacBook Air; and any other Apple device that uses wireless communications.
The move is reminiscent of Apple's recent attempts to block the importation of Samsung mobile devices into the U.S. as those two giants battle tooth and nail for the mobile market.
"These are products that consumers want," David Makman, a patent and intellectual attorney at Makman & Matz, told MacNewsWorld. "As a result, many companies are devoting R&D money to this area, and the result is a lot of valuable patents and a lot of patent litigation."
Welcome to Moto City
Motorola's complaint appears to target Apple's use of a location identifier, media function controls, a message manager program, a text-to-speech converter that can also convert speech to text, the ability to sync multiple devices' messaging capabilities, a method for receiving and managing wireless communications, content syncing, and the ability to play content across multiple devices.
Motorola has previously filed a complaint against Apple in the ITC and has battled the company in Germany.
In this latest lawsuit, Motorola Mobility "is asserting utility patents," Makman said. "Moreover, because the suit was filed in the ITC, injunctive relief is clearly available as a remedy." Given this, the risk to Apple "is quite high."
Apple has "put together powerful market-leading innovative products and did their best to build a patent portfolio that would help them maximize their profits," Makman said. Now, the company's testing the limits of its portfolio, and "it is not surprising that they are seeing push-back in the form of lawsuits for patent infringement from competitors including Samsung and Motorola," Makman continued.
Get Offa My Cloud!
Although Motorola's seeking a ban against a wide swathe of Apple products that use wireless communications, the real battle is between iOS and Android for supremacy in the global smartphone market.
The market is huge -- worldwide smartphone sales grew nearly 43 percent in the second quarter, and Samsung maintained its lead over Apple and Nokia quarter on quarter, according to Gartner.
"Google would like to win an import ban of broad technical scope against as many Apple products as possible in order to have leverage for a global settlement that would benefit not only Google and Motorola but also Samsung and HTC," patent expert Florian Mueller, founder of the Fosspatents blog, told MacNewsWorld.
"The competition in the market being fierce and the stakes being high, it is not surprising that the companies would try to use their patent portfolios to maintain high margins and to obtain a high return on investment," Makman remarked.
However, "my sense is that Apple has been overly optimistic in asserting its design patents," Makman said. "Apple's problem has always been that its products, which look great and can do amazing things, are often very buggy. In the long run, Apple needs to show success with utility patents -- that is, to demonstrate that its engineers came up with key technology instead of key aesthetics."
Peace in Our Time?
Whether Motorola and Apple might settle out of court before they go to trial before the ITC is open to question.
"A settlement might happen along the way, but I doubt it," Mueller said. "The big question is, which of these two companies will be the first to be in such a strong legal position that it can dictate the terms of a settlement"?
In fact, Apple may retaliate with a patent action against Motorola "within a matter of months," Mueller speculated.
On the other hand, Makman believes, based on current information, that this lawsuit will be settled without going to trial.
"We would like to settle these patent matters, but Apple's unwillingness to work out a license leaves us little choice but to defend ourselves and our engineers' innovations," Motorola spokesperson Christa Smith told MacNewsWorld.
Apple did not respond to our request to comment.