Motorola has filed a second patent infringement complaint against Apple, just one month after an initial complaint filing that theoretically could result in Apple iPads, iPhones and other products being banned from importation into the United States.
The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) released details Aug. 20 of the second complaint by Motorola Mobility, now a Google unit, against Apple, which was filed with the ITC on Aug. 17. It lists seven patents held by Motorola that it alleges Apple has infringed upon in products such as the iPad, the iPhone and various Mac computers including the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.
One of the patents describes technology “that allows an audible user input to be converted into a text string,” which would appear to describe Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant feature introduced with the Apple iPhone 4S.
Besides Siri, other Motorola patents at issue deliver such features as location reminders, phone and video player functions and email notifications. Motorola said in a prepared statement that it filed the second complaint because Apple has been uncooperative in negotiations aimed at licensing Motorola’s patents to Apple to settle the matter.
“We would like to settle these patent matters, but Apple’s unwillingness to work out a license leaves us little choice but to defend ourselves and our engineers’ innovations,” the company stated.
The Motorola vs. Apple case is one of a number of lawsuits that mobile technology companies are filing against each other. A jury in San Jose, Calif., is scheduled to begin deliberations Aug. 22 in a case in which Apple is suing Samsung for allegedly violating several of its patents in the design of Samsung smartphones and tablet computers. Apple vs. Samsung is considered by some to be a “proxy case” where Apple’s ultimate target is Google, which developed the Android mobile operating systems that is a rival to Apple’s iOS platform and is used in Samsung, Motorola and other brand name devices.
The latest filing comes about one month after the ITC ruled on infringement claims by Motorola against Apple regarding seven other patents. The commission found Apple to have violated one of those patents and is expected to rule on a penalty for Apple on Aug. 24. The ITC could ban the import into the U.S. of any Apple products manufactured in Asia that are found to have infringed Motorola’s patents. However, one patent expert considers that unlikely.
The patent that the ITC found Apple to have infringed upon in July is a “standard-essential” patent, which is basically a patent that has become an industry standard, said Brian Love, an assistant professor of law at Santa Clara (Calif.) University.
Import Ban Only Remedy Available from ITC
Companies that patent a particular technology standard apply to standards bodies like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to get their technology accepted as part of the standard. In the event their technology is adopted as the standard, they in turn agree to license their technology to others in a “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” way, said Love.
Given that the patents in the Motorola vs. Apple case are “standard-essential” patents, it’s unlikely that the ITC would ban the import of Apple products into the U.S., Love said. He noted that U.S. District Court in Chicago, Judge Richard Posner threw out another Apple vs. Motorola patent infringement case in June because the patents at issue were standard-essential. That ruling is on appeal.
Federal courts and the ITC both handle patent infringement cases, but have different options for how they can operate, he said. A U.S. District Court can impose monetary damages on the infringing company. But the ITC can only grant or deny a request for an “exclusion,” that would keep an offending product from being imported into the U.S.
“That’s the only remedy you can get. You can’t get monetary compensation [from the ITC],” Love said.
What’s interesting about the Motorola vs. Apple and the Apple vs. Samsung cases, which Love refers to as the “smartphone wars,” is that they are being argued at all.
Because patent law can be murky, the conventional wisdom has been that a company doesn’t easily sue rivals for infringement because it could result in the defendant making similar allegations against the plaintiff.
“If you’re going to start picking a fight, it’s going to result in mutually-assured destruction,” he said, referring to a Cold War concept that the U.S. and Soviet Union would never actually fire nuclear missiles at each other because both countries had more than enough nuclear warheads to destroy each other and even the entire world many times over.
In the Apple v. Samsung case, wrapping up in San Jose’s federal court, presiding U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh publicly urged both sides to settle before jury deliberations begin after evidence of infringement was presented by each company against the other.
Attorneys for both sides in the Apple vs. Samsung case are scheduled to make closing arguments to the jury Aug. 21 and deliberations are expected to begin the next day.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the name of the U.S. district court judge who threw out an earlier patent infringement case between Apple and Google.