Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Judge stays Microsoft-Motorola non-FRAND federal claims, Android import ban takes effect

A week ago I reported on Microsoft's and Google subsidiary Motorola Mobility's agreement to stay all patent infringement claims in three cases pending in the Western District of Washington until the FRAND issues at the center of one of those cases have been resolved. Judge James L. Robart signed his order granting a stay last Wednesday but it entered the public record only yesterday.

Judge Robart didn't adopt the parties' stipulation in its original form. He made one modification. Instead of staying those claims "until the later of: (i) the 9th Circuit's decision on Motorola's appeal of this Court's anti-suit injunction; and (ii) a final decision on the [F]RAND issues in the 1823 Action, including, if appealed by either party, a final decision of the appellate courts", Judge Robart ordered a stay "until further order of this court".

This modification gives the judge more flexibility in deciding when the time is ripe to continue to litigate the patent infringement issues. I doubt that such "further order" would come down before Judge Robart's decision on the FRAND issues before him, but he may not necessarily wait for the adjudication of certain appeals.

Judge Robart moved up the trial again. In early May, he had already moved it up by a week from November 26, 2012, to November 19, 2012. The new trial date is now November 13, 2012. Judge Robart made some scheduling decisions concerning the build-up to the trial. For example, the parties have to file their opening expert reports by Thursday (July 19) and rebuttal expert reports by August 8.

The Western District of Washington is the center of gravity for the U.S. part of the Microsoft-Motorola dispute but far from the only venue in which they are suing each other. For example, a couple of decisions are going to come down in Munich next week.

Today is the day when the 60-day Presidential Review period for the import ban the ITC ordered against Motorola's Android-based devices (to the extent that those devices infringe a particular Microsoft patent on scheduling meetings from a wireless device) ends. The White House usually does not veto such bans. Bloomberg's patent expert Susan Decker just reported on a Motorola Mobility statement according to which the Google subsidiary has taken unspecified "proactive measures" to keep its gadgets available in the United States. Presumably they have removed the related functionality, and as the Bloomberg story notes, they could ask (or may already have asked) the ITC for an advisory opinion on their modified products in order to avoid the kinds of customs issues that recently faced HTC and delayed a couple of its U.S. product launches.

The dispute started almost two years ago. Microsoft and Motorola had patent license agreements (one of which was discussed in open court in Mannheim) in place in the past but those expired at some point and there came a point at which Microsoft determined that non-licensed infringing use could not be tolerated. In a statement that Bloomberg also quotes, Microsoft says that the solution is for the Google subsidiary to "licens[e] [Microsoft's] intellectual property at market rates as most other Android manufacturers have already done". Microsoft's Android patent licensees include Samsung, HTC, LG and many other companies. Some other companies are indirectly licensed because of agreements between Microsoft and original device manufacturers (ODMs). I believe it's only a matter of time until Google agrees with Microsoft that a license agreement is a best way to resolve the dispute and move on.

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