Thursday, December 1, 2011

Motorola's default judgment against Apple to be reviewed by German court in February

On November 4, I was first to publish a default judgment entered by the Mannheim Regional Court in favor of Motorola Mobility against Apple Inc., relating to two patents allegedly infringed by some or all of Apple's mobile devices.

The default judgment came down after Apple's lawyers failed to show up for a hearing on October 21, 2011. It's still unclear whether this was due to an administrative oversight or procedural tactics.

German default judgments are preliminarily enforceable, but all of the German lawyers I asked expected Apple to request and to be granted a stay simultaneously with its objection to the default judgment, which objection is not the same as an appeal to a higher court but simply a means of requesting a second hearing before the same court.

Today the press department of the Mannheim Regional Court confirmed that a hearing in this case has indeed been scheduled for February 3, 2012, at 1 PM.

The court didn't provide any further detail, but the only explanation for such a second hearing date is that Apple, quite expectedly, objected to a default judgment. It's also a given that Motorola Mobility won't be able (and possibly wouldn't even want) to enforce the default judgment until the court hands a substantive ruling.

Four hours prior to that hearing, the court will pronounce its ruling on another litigation involving Motorola and Apple. That timing makes too much sense to be a coincidence. The other case relates to a patent allegedly infringed by the iCloud and its predecessor, MobileMe, and the defendant in that case is Apple Sales International, an Irish Apple subsidiary. That patent is one of the two patents asserted against Apple Inc. (the worldwide parent company) in the default judgment case.

I attended the related hearing on November 18 and it appears to me that MMI is fairly likely to prevail. Whatever the ruling on February 3 may be, the subsequent hearing will likely focus on the other patent-in-suit, which appears to be a FRAND-pledged patent declared essential to the 3G telecommunications standard. That said, Apple does have the opportunity to present new evidence and arguments with respect to the "iCloud patent".

While it appears that Motorola won't be enforcing the default judgment, a fact that validates Apple's initial reaction, Apple may be in for a "Mannheim steamroller" in only a couple of months.

Tomorrow (Friday, December 2, 2011), there will be another Mannheim hearing on a third Motorola v. Apple litigation. The leading German news agency, dpa (Deutsche Presse-Agentur), reported that hearing date a few weeks ago. I don't know which patents are going to be at issue tomorrow, nor do I have the names of the defendants, but I suspect that this is an action against Apple GmbH (the German subsidiary) and possibly also Apple Retail Germany GmbH, the Apple entity running the official German Apple Stores. I will report on that hearing tomorrow.

In the smartphone patent wars, Mannheim is a particularly important venue -- currently it's the center of gravity for all such litigation outside the United States. Besides the Motorola v. Apple cases I just mentioned, Motorola and its wholly-owned subsidiary General Instrument Corporation are also suing Microsoft in that forum; Samsung has three Mannheim lawsuits going against Apple (two of which will be adjudicated in the second half of January); and patent holding firm IPCom is now enforcing a Mannheim ruling against HTC over a 3G-essential patent after HTC withdrew an appeal.

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