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Apple seeks arbitration in Motorola patent war

Court filing reveals that iPhone maker is pushing for a settlement process, but battle with Samsung continues to rage


Published: 19 November, 2012


In another significant sign that the Apple/Android patent wars could be nearing a truce, it seems that the firm is pushing for arbitration to settle its differences with Motorola Mobility. The Motorola cases have added importance for the whole industry since the firm was acquired by Google, the real target of Apple's "thermonuclear" patents war, though the search giant has also suggested it favors arbitration.

Last week, Apple surprised the industry by announcing a settlement with HTC, though hopes that this might be a blueprint for other agreements were dashed when Samsung took a hard line, saying it had no plans to negotiate with its arch-rival. Of course, Samsung is in the strongest position to push Apple to the edge, and its hardline statements may have been posturing. But while that battle may drag on, the mobile sector would be relieved if Google/Motorola joined HTC at the negotiating table.

Bloomberg discovered a court filing that indicated that Apple and Motorola are discussing going to arbitration to resolve their disputes in the US and elsewhere. The filing, made by Apple, said: "The companies have been exchanging proposals on using binding arbitration to reach a licensing agreement over patents that are essential to comply with industry standards on how phones operate." It added: "Apple is also interested in resolving its dispute with Motorola completely and agrees that arbitration may be the best vehicle to resolve the parties' dispute."

This is the clearest indication yet of a new strategy under Apple's new CEO Tim Cook, who has repeatedly hinted that he wants to end the IPR battles. Of course, he will hold out for favorable terms for Apple, but he shares none of predecessor Steve Jobs's belief in using IPR and battalions of lawyers not primarily to collect licensing revenues, but to stop competitors selling their products and ultimately trying to cripple them as iDevice challengers.

Google had originally raised the issue of arbitration a few months ago in a court hearing, and the firms general counsel Kent Walker said in a letter to Apple last week, which was filed with the court: "We have long sought a path to resolving patent issues and we welcome the chance to build on the constructive dialogue between our companies. While we prefer to seek a framework for a global (rather than piecemeal) resolution that addresses all of our patent disputes, we are committed to reaching agreement on a license for our respective standard-essential patents."

The Samsung-Apple war rumbles on though, and in the latest twist, the Korean firm is petitioning the ITC (International Trade Commission) to reverse its preliminary ruling that Apple devices do not infringe four Samsung patents. The initial decision by one judge, made on September 14, is subject to review by the full ITC panel, which should announce its verdict today.

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