Apple's Mannheim jinx has been broken: this morning, Judge Andreas Voss of the Mannheim Regional Court announced that a Motorola Mobility lawsuit over a patent declared essential to the 3G/UMTS wireless telecommunications standard has been dismissed.
The judge explained that the court does not hold Apple to infringe claim 9 of EP1053613 on a "method and system for generating a complex pseudonoise sequence for processing a code division multiple access [CDMA] signal". In the court's opinion, MMI failed to present conclusive evidence for its infringement contention. MMI argued that any implementation of 3G/UMTS must inevitably infringe this patent claim, as opposed to demonstrating that the accused Apple products actually practice the claimed invention. Since the asserted patent claim is centered around the "means" used to generate a number that optimizes wireless transmissions, the court would have wanted to see proof that Apple's products contain such "means". The judge clarified that the court would have deemed the patent claim infringed even if the "means" had been program code as opposed to a hardware implementation -- but MMI didn't show any kind of actual implementation (neither hardware nor software), and arguing merely on the basis of the specifications of the standard was insufficient to win.
This is a textbook example of a patent that was declared essential (by MMI itself, not by any standard-setting organization) but isn't essential in the court's opinion: the judge doesn't rule out that Apple may be able to implement the standard without necessarily having products that contain the "means" claimed by MMI.
When I reported it on the December 2, 2011 trial of this case, I already wrote that MMI's complaint "ha[d] the court puzzled". Color me not surprised in the slightest. The reasoning provided by the judge today is absolutely consistent with the doubts he expressed at trial.
MMI and its counsel will probably think to themselves that "two out of three ain't bad", especially since MMI's philosophy concerning standard-essential patents is that it's the same situation as a bank robbery (yes, they said that in a court filing) and "it only takes one bullet to kill". Out of the three patents MMI has so far asserted against Apple in Mannheim, it prevailed on two, including one standard-essential patent, also known as "a license to kill":
In December 2011, Motorola won a ruling based on a patent declared essential to GPRS, the data transmission standard that enhanced GSM about a decade ago. MMI enforced this decision, which forced Apple to remove various products from its German online store one week ago. That same day, an appeals court granted Apple some temporary reprieve, and the affected products went back on sale. However, I cautioned Apple stakeholders that they would have to prepare for further shockwaves from Germany: enforcement could resume within a matter of weeks, but it could also be suspended again.
Last week, MMI also won a German injunction against Apple products and services that provide BlackBerry-style push email. Most likely, MMI will also seek enforcement of this ruling as soon as possible. Apple has declared its intent to appeal, particularly because it contests the validity of that patent. Also, it's a relatively old patent.
In November, MMI also won a default judgment (due to a no-show by Apple's counsel at a trial) relating to the GPRS patent and the push email patent. In that action, Apple Inc. (of Cupertino, California) is the defendant. Last week, the court held a second trial, and Apple raised a new FRAND defense (see item 8 in this section of a recent blog post). Against the push email patent, Apple reinforced its invalidity defense. A new ruling (that will supersede the default judgment) will come down on Friday the 13th of April.
Motorola Mobility's official demand is that Apple pay 2.25% of the net selling price of its 3G/UMTS products as a royalty for MMI's standard-essential wireless patents. Considering that those patents have nothing to do with the value an iPhone or iPad adds on top of basic feature phone functionality (most of which is provided by a baseband chip selling in the $10-$15 range), Apple rejects that demand as being out of step with MMI's FRAND licensing obligations.
The 2.25%-of-net-selling-price demand doesn't even necessarily relate to MMI's patents on different standards. Google, which is in the process of acquiring MMI, issued a public statement on the future use of MMI's standard-essential patents, but besides various shortcomings that I outlined right away, it appears that Google's 2.25% demand relates to only the standards of one standards body at a time. At a trial earlier this week (where Microsoft was the defendant), it became known that MMI's position on standard-essential patents is that "it only takes one bullet to kill", rendering additional bullets in the same gun less valuable than the first one. In that light, MMI didn't even need to win today: according to its own logic, the standard-based injunction that it's already enforcing is, all by itself, a nuclear weapon.
Updated matrix of Motorola Mobility v. Apple actions in German courts
In a recent post on Motorola's Düsseldorf lawsuits against the German Apple Stores, I published a table that listed all of the German Motorola Mobility v. Apple cases and key data (date of complaint, trial date, decision date, outcome, appeals). I have updated this one now based on today's result:
Since the Düsseldorf case in which Motorola is asserting this patent against the German Apple Stores has not even gone to trial, it's quite possible that MMI will try to do better in the Düsseldorf case by following the guidance from Mannheim and presenting infringement contentions based on the actual product as opposed to the specifications of the standard. But it's also possible that Apple simply doesn't implement the patent in its products.
If you'd like to be updated on the smartphone patent disputes and other intellectual property matters I cover, please subscribe to my RSS feed (in the right-hand column) and/or follow me on Twitter @FOSSpatents and Google+.
Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: