Friday, March 16, 2012

Apple loses final ITC ruling against Motorola Mobility: preliminary finding of no violation affirmed

On January 13, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the ITC made an initial determination (a recommendation for a decision) that didn't hold Motorola Mobility to infringe three Apple patents. Last month, I blogged about Apple's petition for review (check out that post for more information on the asserted patents and the related findings). The ITC just gave notice that the Commission -- the six-member decision-making body at the top of the TIC -- has conducted a partial review of the initial determination (ID) and decided, "on review, to affirm the ID's finding of no violation". As a result, the investigation is terminated.

This is the end of the ITC investigation. Apple can appeal this decision to the Federal Circuit, and in my view, this is very likely to happen. Apple is already appealing certain parts of the ITC's ruling on Apple's first complaint against HTC. Chances are that the Federal Circuit will overturn a number of ITC findings in the smartphone-related cases, but it will take time.

It rarely happens that the ITC issues a review notice but then decides on the issues under review right away, without asking the parties for further comment on them. It appears that the ITC just did some clean-up of its own with a view to the expected appeal to the Federal Circuit. The formal target date for this decision was actually May 14, but the Commission cut the process short (by two months) with today's notice.

A more detailed version of the ITC's notice is available on the government agency's electronic document system. The ITC actually conducted a review with respect to one issue for each of the three asserted patents, and while it disagreed with the ID to a limited extent, the bottom line is the same: Motorola ends up defending itself successfully against all three patents.

The drop-out rate of patent infringement claims at the ITC continues to be extremely high in connection with smartphone-related technologies. In light of that fact, it's understandable that most of the major players are primarily betting on German courts for short-term high-impact decisions. The courts in Munich and Mannheim are twice as fast as the ITC, and patent holders achieve far more favorable rulings, on average.

An ITC investigation of a Motorola complaint against Apple is still underway. The initial determination by the ALJ in charge of that investigation will be due April 23 and the target date for the final ruling is August 23.

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