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Apple avoids injunction with ITC ruling

US trade commission rules that Motorola Mobility sensor patent, asserted against the iPhone, is invalid


Published: 23 April, 2013

READ MORE: US | Apple | Patents/IPR

Apple has escaped a potential import ban, with a judgement in its favor from the US International Trade Commission (ITC). The key ruling went against Motorola Mobility, whose patent battles with Apple and Microsoft have gained new significance because of its ownership with their real arch-rival, Google.

The ITC upheld a preliminary finding, by one of its judges, Thomas Pender, that a Motorola patent related to smartphone sensors is invalid, though different reasons were cited in the full-panel judgement. The patent covers a sensor that prevents the phone from accidentally ending a call or activating an application, when held near to the user's face, and was the only piece of IPR left in a case that was originally more broad-ranging.

This is the latest in the long string of rulings in cases between Apple and key Android rivals. The main Android majors left standing in the IPR war of attrition which has dragged on for the past couple of years are Samsung and Motorola/Google, with HTC and others having come to licensing compromises with the iPhone maker. In both the Motorola and Samsung fights, neither Apple nor its enemies have struck a really decisive blow, and even Apple's biggest victory so far, when it was awarded $1.1bn in damages against Samsung in a Silicon Valley court, is still subject to a series of appeals and follow-up actions.

Google said it was disappointed and was "evaluating our options".

Rodney Sweetland, a patent lawyer with Duane Morris in Washington, told Bloomberg: "This is not a surprise because the Commission has heretofore not found a violation by Apple in any case as to any claim in any patent. The Commission is particularly attentive to the details in cases involving Apple, which implicate such a popular product and such an important part of commerce."

However, Apple is also appealing the loss of its own ITC case against Motorola Mobility, which concerns touchscreen patents, and both companies are challenging a decision by a Chicago court to toss out a tit-for-tat set of infringement cases there. Meanwhile, the judge in another case, in federal court in Miami, has criticized both firms for being "obstreperous and cantankerous" and said they were interested in "never-ending litigation" as a commercial tactic, not to resolve disputes.

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