Motorola is celebrating an initial triumph over Apple, after a U.S. International Trade Commission administrative law judge issued an initial determination finding that Motorola Mobility has not violated any of the three patents listed in an October 2010 lawsuit Apple filed against the Droid maker.
Scott Offer, Motorola Mobility's senior vice president and general counsel said in a statement following the determination:
"We are pleased with today's favorable outcome for Motorola Mobility. Motorola Mobility has worked hard over the years to develop technology and build an industry-leading intellectual-property portfolio. We are proud to leverage this broad and deep portfolio to create differentiated innovations that enhance the user experience."
The determination isn't the final say, however, as in March, the ruling will be reviewed by a six-member ITC panel that will announce the ultimate ruling. However, according to Zacks Equity Research, it's unusual for the ITC panel, which has the power to block device imports, to contradict a judge's determination.
The Apple lawsuit focused on two touch-screen-related patents and one relevant to the operating system.
Motorola has likewise filed a patent-infringement suit against Apple-accusing it of stepping on the toes of at least 18 of its patents, some of which pertain to antenna design and connectivity technologies-and that's expected to get under way in April.
"We believe that the loss at the hands of Motorola will not deter Apple from continuing with its aggressive strategy of suing other handset makers, particularly the ones who use Android platform, going forward," Zacks analysts said in a Jan. 16 blog post. "Although the results of its lawsuits have been mixed, Apple has succeeded in thwarting Android's strong growth in recent times, based on robust product sales."
While Android market share surpassed 50 percent in the United States-helped by a delay in the release of the iPhone 4S-2011 was a rocky year for Motorola. The company has seen its fortunes rise and fall, claiming 36 percent of smartphone market share in 2006 but slipping to just 1 percent by the third quarter of 2009, according to NPD Group figures. Its adoption of Android certainly helped it, with its share rising to 16 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, though-as Android similarly emboldened competitors Samsung and HTC-its share fell to 12 percent during the third quarter of 2011.
In September, Google purchased Motorola, namely for its robust intellectual-property portfolio, which includes more than 17,000 patents, many for 3G and 4G capabilities. Google's own more modest portfolio has meant that its manufacturing partners using Android have been paying royalties to Google-rival Microsoft-which owns a patent Android borrows from-on each Android handset they activate.
"The competitive landscape for smartphones, which has been reshaped by Apple and Google, has ultimately forced every major handset provider through a major transition," Ross Rubin, executive director of Connected Intelligence for The NPD Group, said in the statement on the Apple-Android horse race. "For many of them, 2012 will be a critical year in assessing how effective their responses have been."