Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Miami court grants HTC request to transfer Apple's claims to Delaware -- Motorola might benefit

Judge Robert N. Scola, the federal judge presiding over a Motorola Mobility v. Apple lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Florida in 2010 (to which Apple added HTC as a defendant against counterclaims over six patents), today granted a couple of HTC motions to sever Apple's claims against HTC from the ones against Motorola Mobility and to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, a court whose chief judge doesn't seem to like all of Apple's litigation tactics and which has previously stayed all of Apple's lawsuits against HTC pending in that district.

HTC certainly hopes that the Delaware-based court will also stay this Apple lawsuit. But since an HTC v. Apple lawsuit is still progressing there (to which Apple was not allowed to add four counterclaim patents), it's not a given that this case will be stayed following transfer.

Judge Scola explained the rationale behind this decision in HTC's favor by pointing to last year's U.S. patent reform bill, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). In an effort to up the ante for patent trolls, that law heightened the standard for joinders (i.e., for suing multiple defendants in one case in the same district, which is what trolls used to do in the Eastern District of Texas for the most part). Apple is not a troll, but the AIA doesn't make that distinction as far as the parts relevant to HTC's motion to transfer the claims it has to defend itself against out of Miami.

The transfer will relate not only to six Apple patents insofar as HTC's products are accused but also to two former HP patents that HTC is asserting there against Apple.

While the benefits of this to HTC (other than logistical efficiency) remain to be seen, the most likely beneficiary is Google subsidiary Motorola Mobility, which previously accused Apple of "gamesmanship" because of its decision to sue HTC in Florida in order to inflate the overall case and slow things down. I think Motorola is right that that's what Apple primarily intended to achieve, though there's no question that Apple is also serious about going after HTC.

Back in May, the Miami-based court set a schedule that suited HTC's and Apple's needs (envisioning a trial in mid-2014) but was too slow for Google's (Motorola's) purposes. While Apple has some reasonably strong patents in action in Florida, this is the case in which Motorola asserted the six non-standard-essential patents it considered to be its strongest ones for the purpose of suing Apple, and Motorola is eager to get a decision on those claims (as well as six other patents it added to this action a couple of months ago). Google's Motorola Mobility could now be the primary beneficiary of HTC's successful motions to sever and transfer the Apple v. HTC claims out of Miami: this streamlining of the case may very well result in a faster schedule.

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