Thursday, February 3, 2011

Update on ITC investigations involving smartphones

Several key players in the smartphone business are entangled in ITC investigations. While there haven't been any spectacular news concerning smartphone patent litigation in recent weeks, there has been some progress on different fronts that's worth taking a quick look at.

New investigation of Sony's complaint against LG (investigation no. 337-TA-758): On January 27, 2011, the ITC voted to investigate Sony's complaint against LG. As I explained in a similar case, this kind of ITC decision doesn't mean that a complainant has taken a major hurdle. In all of the cases I've been watching so far, complaints resulted in investigations.

The Sony vs. LG dispute is an interesting one in some respects. It's the first such dispute between two Android adopters. While Sony's complaint doesn't list Android phones among the specifically accused devices, it appears broad enough to cover phones running on different operating systems. One of the accused products happens to be the LG Quantum, a Windows Phone 7 device. So this is the first patent infringement action I've become aware of that involves WP7 in some way. The asserted patents are typical "computer-implemented inventions" patents, meaning they specify hardware as well as software components and it isn't easy to tell whether the operating systems of those phones play a key role in the alleged infringement. The list of accused products suggested that Sony mostly looked at the hardware components built into those phones.

Eastman Kodak vs. Apple and RIM (investigation no. 337-TA-703): I haven't previously commented on this smartphone-related patent case on this blog (even though I have covered so many of them). The latest turn in that investigation is an example of how careful one has to be when assessing any interim news concerning those ITC proceedings.

When news surfaced in early November that the ITC staff had a negative view of several infringement allegations brought by Apple against Nokia, I pointed out that the ITC staff opinion is just an opinion and far from a definitive decision. The Kodak case is now a perfect example of how the wheel of fortune can turn during such a process. On January 25, 2011, Kodak announced that it received notice of initial determination in its case against Apple and RIM, and that initial determination (by the Administrative Law Judge in charge) was negative for Kodak. But in the same announcement, Kodak vowed to fight on, trying to still convince the ITC's ultimate decision-making body (the Commission) to overturn the ALJ's determination. And while I don't have access to the ITC staff report on this case, Kodak claims that it was favorable. If that is true, it means that the ITC staff report was overturned by the ALJ, and Kodak is now trying to get the Commission to overturn the ALJ's initial determination.

The lesson to be learned: he who has the last laugh, laughs best.

Apple vs. HTC and Nokia (investigation no. 337-TA-710): This is a rather important case. It started with an Apple complaint against HTC, but Apple's allegations that Nokia infringes five of its patents were consolidated into this one as well (since the same patents were also asserted against HTC). On January 3, 2011, the Administrative Law Judge in charge of this case determined that the process was going to take longer than previously anticipated and extended the target date (the date on which the final decision is expected) by two months from October 6, 2011, to December 6, 2011. Previously, the parties had asked for a postponed hearing, which is now scheduled to take place from April 18, 2011, until May 6, 2011. The Administrative Law Judge plans to make his initial determination on August 5, 2011.

Microsoft vs. Motorola (investigation no. 337-TA-744): In December, the Administrative Law Judge set an approximate target date for the final decision in this case -- March 5, 2012. On January 10, 2011, the ITC set a procedural schedule in accordance with that target date. The procedural schedule was jointly proposed by the two parties and the ITC staff.

Motorola vs. Apple (investigation no. 337-TA-745): On December 14, 2010, the Administrative Law Judge set a target in this case for March 8, 2012. On December 23, 2010, a detailed procedural schedule was set in accordance with that target date.

Apple vs. Motorola (investigation no. 337-TA-750): On January 20, 2011, the ITC accepted a procedural schedule jointly proposed by Apple and Motorola. The target date for this investigation is March 30, 2012.

Motorola vs. Microsoft (investigation no. 337-TA-752): This case is related to the Xbox but was brought by Motorola after Microsoft complained over various Android-based Motorola devices. On January 13, 2011, the Administrative Law Judge made the initial determination that the target date for this investigation is May 23, 2012.

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