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Microsoft win against Motorola just adds to uncertainty

Like Apple vs HTC, Microsoft wins its case regarding one patent, but loses the rest, as all eyes turn to Google itself


Published: 21 December, 2011

READ MORE: US | Motorola | Patents/IPR | Android

The protagonists in the smartphone patent wars continue to claim limited victories, indicating an overall stalemate in the battle to hold back Android's progress. Apple won a US ITC judgement earlier this week against HTC, but only with regards to one patent, while losing its case over four others. This was hardly the knock-out blow which Apple wanted to send powerful signals to Android players, and now Microsoft has had similar results in its lawsuit against Motorola Mobility. It has won a judgment on one patent, but failed to convince the court on six others.

Microsoft has generally taken a different stance to that of Apple, avoiding law courts and instead seeking royalties for its Android-related IPR in order to boost revenue and destabilize the Google OS by increasing its cost base. However, it is taking on some rivals more aggressively, notably Motorola (soon to be part of Google) and Barnes & Noble. In a preliminary ruling (which could be reversed on review by the whole panel) ITC Judge Theodore Essex said Motorola violated a patent for generating meeting requests and group scheduling using Microsoft's ActiveSync technology.

This falls far short of the wider claims made by Microsoft, Motorola Mobility's general counsel Scott Offer said the ruling was largely favorable to it, and may provide clarity on exactly what IPR Microsoft owns, helping handset makers to avoid infringement more easily. Like HTC, Motorola indicated it could find a workaround for the offending IPR. Some analysts were sceptical - "They're talking about removing that feature from the product very quickly to avoid infringement, but I'm not sure how easy that is," patent lawyer David Mixon told Bloomberg. "Being found to infringe is never a good thing. Settlement is always the best way."

Apple, however, has shown little interest in settlement, unlike Microsoft, which has agreed licensing terms with Samsung, HTC and others, and is said to be in talks with Huawei. Brian Marshall, an analyst at ISI Group , wrote in a research note: "With about $80bn in net cash, we believe Apple is not interested in a financial settlement with HTC or other Android vendors but wants to stop the shipment/sale of products that infringe on their vast IP portfolio."

Motorola insiders hinted that talks with Microsoft were not dead, but had been slowed down by the ongoing acquisition process. However, if agreement is not reached before Google completes the purchase, the industry could see the interesting sight of the two huge software enemies in direct conflict. Meanwhile, the ITC could only ban Motorola products should the ruling be confirmed by the full six-judge panel, and no workaround found in the meantime. Microsoft has demanded an injunction against Motorola Android devices including the Xoom tablets and the Atrix, Droid 2, Droid X, Cliq XT, Devour, Backflip, Charm and Cliq smartphones.

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