German Court Ruling Sheds Doubt on Motorola Patents’ Worth

A regional court in Munich has ruled that Google-owned Motorola Mobility infringed an Apple patent related to touchscreen technology. The court placed a preliminary injunction on devices that use the patent-infringing tech, including the Motorola Milestone XT720, the Motorola Defy, the Motorola Atrix and the Motorola Xoom.

This is unlikely to be the final word for the companies in this venue — the injunction is preliminary, and Motorola could appeal the ruling. It could also craft a workaround in order to continue selling in the German market. In the meantime, Apple has requested sales figures from Motorola to determine damages.

The patent, EP2126678, is for tech known as the “rubber band,” because it causes the screen to spring back once the user has scrolled to the bottom.

Google and Apple did not respond to our requests to comment for this story.

A Hot Streak

It appears that Apple is on a hot streak with its legal strategy. It won a major legal victory over Samsung for patent infringement in a U.S. court, complete with a US$1.05 billion damages verdict.

These victories illustrate the far-reaching nature of Apple’s patent portfolio, Peter Toren, an attorney with Weisbrod Matteis & Copley, told LinuxInsider. “It has sought out patents for just about every mobile invention function and apparently done so quite successfully.”

High-level executives from Google and Apple reportedly have engaged in talks, likely about cross-licensing their technologies. However, few expect them to meekly resolve their differences without further court action in some part of the world.

Portent of Doom?

The German court decision must be dismaying to Google, which spent $12.5 billion acquiring Motorola last year, largely for its intellectual property. Motorola’s patents were expected to be useful in defending Android and perhaps to help Google mount a legal offensive of its own.

In the German case, all of the Motorola devices found to be infringing use Android. That does not bode well for Google in future conflicts.

The point of acquiring the Motorola portfolio was to gain a sort of mutually assured destruction strike capability, said Christal Sheppard, an assistant professor of law at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

“With these patents, Google had the threat of being able to sue Apple for something if Apple sued it,” she told LinuxInsider.

However, based on this ruling, it appears Google bought a pig in a poke, Sheppard observed. “I equate it to the real estate bubble, when investors were buying assets and were unclear as to what exactly they were worth.”

Critical Battle

From Google’s perspective, this was an important patent challenge to lose, continued Sheppard.

“Google is in a bad position, because this is something they license to all mobile phone manufacturers that use Android,” she pointed out. It is not a patent involving the device’s look or user interface — “it is a utility function, which is more important. You can change the way something looks with a workaround, but users expect to be able to keep using a device in the same manner.”

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