Friday, April 27, 2012

Just discovered: Apple hit Motorola and HTC with six new patents in Miami last month

With all that's going on, it's hard to stay on top of all smartphone-related patent lawsuits. I'm doing my best but today I found out about six new patent assertions by Apple against Motorola and HTC that were discoverable, and weren't actually discovered by anyone else who would have written about them, since March 12.

In the Southern District of Florida, Apple responded to a Motorola complaint fild in January 2012, targeting new products and services (the iPhone 4S and the iCloud) over six patents previously asserted against older Apple technologies. Motorola originally wanted to bring those infringement allegations in a Miami litigation involving those same patents that has been going on since October 2010, but the judge presiding over the case at the time didn't allow this. Meanwhile a new judge has taken over and vacated that denial, and wants to explore the possibility of consolidating this cases. But at the time Apple had to respond to Motorola's new Florida lawsuit, that possibility wasn't on the horizon. Apple decided to pay back in kind by asserting its own patents from the first Florida case against some newer Motorola products and to go for further escalation by adding six patents not previously asserted against Motorola. And Apple decided to simultaneously assert them against HTC as well, for the sake of sweeping but efficient litigation.

As a result, the claims and counterclaims in that lawsuit are asymmetrical: in addition to Apple and Motorola asserting against each other old patents targeting new products, there are six new patents in play against which HTC has to defend itself in the same case. This is the first time for Apple to bring claims against two independent Android device makers in the same lawsuit.

By bringing counterclaims, Apple ensured that Motorola wouldn't be able to quickly extend a potential infringement finding against older Apple products in the first Miami case. Its counterclaims definitely slow down that second Miami action and ensure that whenever Motorola may win any favorable ruling there, Apple also has a chance of winning something.

The six new patents are quite young. The "oldest" one was granted in December 2010, while the other five patents were granted between September 2011 and January 2012. It's a clear message to the Android camp that Apple's patent portfolio is getting stronger by the day.

Four of those patents were previously asserted against Samsung, while two of them didn't previously show up in litigation. These are the six patents Motorola and HTC now have to deal with:

The next important step in Miami will be a decision on how to organize those two cases. It would probably make sense for the court to consolidate the parts that assert old patents against new products. But in that case, the parts remaining in the second Florida action would just be a six-patent Apple lawsuit against Motorola and HTC. Apple's disputes with those parties have different centers of gravity (Illinois and Delaware). I'm sure Apple would want to stay out of Delaware, where a district court stayed all of Apple's pending claims against HTC in a decision that was unusual and unfair to Apple. I guess Apple would rather litigate over those patents in the Southern District of Florida, which is reasonably fast by U.S. standards (though it would be slow by German standards), or alternatively go to the Northern District of California (a district to which HTC once wanted to move its litigation with Apple, a transfer that would have been much better for Apple than staying in Delaware). Illinois is rather unlikely because Judge Posner will take the Apple v. Motorola case pending there to trial in June, so it would be too late for a case transferred out of Florida to have any synergy effects with litigation pending in Chicago.

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