Friday, October 5, 2012

Skyhook and Google agree on August 2013 patent trial date -- but Google will seek further delay

Skyhook Wireless is the smallest entity among all the Android patent plaintiffs I'm following, but it's a disproportionately interesting one. After business negotiations between Skyhook and Google failed, Skyhook signed up Samsung and Motorola as strategic partners, but Google allegedly exerted pressure on the two Android device makers resulting in the termination of those relationships. The Boston-based startup brought a patent infringement action in federal court (District of Massachusetts), claiming that Google used some of its technology regardless, and a competition complaint in state court. As a result of Skyhook's litigation, hundreds of pages of partly astounding revelations about Google's Android-related strategies entered the public record.

Two weeks ago, Skyhook filed a second patent infringement complaint against Google, asserting nine patents. This time around, Skyhook elected to sue in the District of Delaware.

Yesterday Skyhook and Google filed a joint case management statement in their first patent venue, the District of Massachusetts, in response to the court's request for a proposed schedule. The filing says that "the parties [...] had conferred and have an agreed schedule to propose to the Court", and that schedule envisions a 50-hour trial to commence on August 12, 2013. That would be almost three years after Skyhook brought its related complaint. By comparison, you can have two consecutive ITC investigations adjudicated during that time frame (unless there are unusual delays, such as remands), and in the three leading German patent venues (Düsseldorf, Mannheim, Munich) you will typically already have a decision by an appeals court (comparable to a U.S. circuit court) in your hands at that stage. Even some U.S. district courts are considerably faster. For example, Judge Koh's Apple v. Samsung trial took place after less than half of the time to trial of Skyhook's case based on the procedural agreement with Google.

Skyhook will be lucky if its first Google patent trial really does take place next summer. The aforementioned "agreement" is actually fragile. The final section of the Skyhook-Google joint case management statement discusses Skyhook's recent filing in Delaware, and while "Skyhook believes that these patents are not in the same family as the patents in this case and that they cover different subject matter", Google takes the opposite position and, according to the filing, "will be filing a motion to change venue of the Delaware action to this Court or to the Northern District of California, where all of Google's witnesses reside". The second scenario -- a transfer to Silicon Valley -- wouldn't affect the Massachusetts case. But if Google's first choice of a transfer to Massachusetts materializes, there's no doubt in light of Google's claim that the patents have overlaps that it will request consolidation of the two patent infringement cases. And if that post-transfer motion succeeded, a summer 2013 trial date is practically impossible because of all of the work that would have to be done on the nine new patents-in-suit. Also, with a double-digit number of patents-in-suit in a consolidated case, there would be pressure on Skyhook to narrow its case, but it would presumably want the benefit of claim construction and summary judgment decisions before engaging in major winnowing.

It may take months before the Delaware-based court decides on Google's motion to transfer venue, which has yet to be brought.

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