updated 11:00 pm EDT, Tue July 31, 2012
Case had been mixed in with Motorola dispute in Miami
While most eyes are on the San Francisco-based US District Court trial between Samsung and Apple, the iPad maker has many other legal actions it is either pursuing or defending against in courtrooms around the US and other countries. Developments in a different case were seen as a loss for Apple on Tuesday, as HTC won the right to sever its case against Apple from one against Motorola Mobility in Miami, and move its fight against Apple to another US District Court.
The Motorola case, which is being heard in Miami in US District Court under Judge Richard Scola, was originally brought by Motorola Mobility in 2010 but also has counterclaims by Apple. Apple added HTC as a defendant over six patents, but today's decision severs HTC's role in the trial, creating a separate case that will be heard in Delaware. Ironically, it was Judge Scola who had consolidated the trials originally, back in May.
Judge Scola pointed to the America Invents Act (AIA) as the rationale for his decision. The law, which was designed to prevent non-practicing entities (NPEs) sometimes known as "patent trolls" from abusing the system by racking up multiple lawsuits on related patents in a single (perceived favorable) court, doesn't really apply to the current case -- as both Apple and HTC are practicing entities with many legitimate patents -- but the law doesn't make distinctions. The ruling does add weight to Motorola's claim that Apple was trying to game the system by adding HTC to the Motorola case, thus slowing progress in the Florida trial, notes patent law observer Florian Mueller.
The case in Delaware will now include a total of eight claims -- six that Apple is asserting against HTC, and two former HP patents that HTC is using to make counterclaims. Apple says the two patents HTC is using are "standards-essential" and accuses the company of abusing FRAND practices.
The ruling opens up the possibility that the Apple vs. Motorola trial, currently scheduled for mid-2014, could be moved up and streamlined. However, HTC may see the exact opposite happen in its case -- all of Apple's lawsuits against HTC in that district have been stayed until other rulings on patent validity can be issued. Because the newly-transferred HTC case deals with charges of FRAND abuse, though, there is a possibility that the court will expedite the matter, an outcome not seen to be in HTC's best interest.
Legal analysts consider HTC's case against Apple weak, with its patents very likely to be declared "standards-essential" and FRAND licensing enforced. Apple has said in court documents in the Motorola case (before the severing) that it "stands ready" to license patents to, and from, the Google-owned subsidiary and other companies. Apple contends, in various court and ITC cases, that Motorola Mobility and HTC (in particular) are abusing the FRAND concept and using standards-essential patents as a legal weapon or refusing to license with reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. [via Florian Mueller]