updated 08:15 pm EST, Tue December 18, 2012
Pender finds Moto proximity sensor patent invalid
In a preliminary ruling, the US International Trade Commission has again found that Apple's iPhone did not infringe on a Motorola patent regarding proximity sensors, another win for the Cupertino company in a string of almost-exclusively favorable ITC rulings. Judge Thomas Pender ruled again that the Motorola patent, now owned by Google, is invalid. The ruling came as a part of an appeal against his earlier August decision, which covered both the sensor patent and several 3G-related ones. The ruling is preliminary, and will be reviewed by a full panel.
The full ruling will be made public after some proprietary information is redacted by both parties, but is likely to mirror Pender's earlier finding on US Patent number 6,246,862, which deals with a "sensor-controlled user interface for a portable communications device." In the previous case, Apple was cleared of charges it infringed on two Wi-Fi related patents and a third that was deemed to be a standards-essential patent (SEP) regarding 3G and UTMS.
After the final ruling on the first case, the panel tossed the question of the '862 patent back to the judge for further clarification of his original judgement. He again found that the patent in question was invalid, a finding that is likely to stand despite review by the full ITC panel. Other ITC litigation between Apple and Motorola is still ongoing. A Motorola spokesperson said the ocmpany is "disappointed with this outcome" and that the company is evaluating its options.
A Wisconsin federal judge also threw out a cross-suit between the two companies regarding Motorola's alleged abuse of Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) licensing for standard-essential patents (SEPs), questioning the need for software patents entirely. Judge Richard Posner said that the current system creates "huge patent thickets, creating rich opportunities for trying to hamstring competitors by suing for infringement—and also for infringing, and then challenging the validity of the patent when the patentee sues you."
As a result of the ITC hearings, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating charges that Google, which owns Motorola Mobility, is abusing SEPs by using them as legal weapons to gain bargaining leverage during FRAND discussions. A settlement between the FTC and Google on this practice, which may involve the search giant giving up many of its current lawsuits, is in the works and expected to be announced next month, which could have significant bearing on the current war of lawsuits and ITC investigations.