Monday, March 4, 2013

Google faces critical week in German courts: Google Play and Google Maps under patent fire

The more difficult it is for innovators to obtain timely patent infringement rulings and meaningful remedies in U.S. courts, the more popular and relevant certain German courts, especially the ones in Mannheim and Munich, become. In the second half of this week, two key Google services -- Google Maps and the Google Play app and content store -- are going to be at issue in German courtrooms:

  • On Thursday, the Munich I Regional Court will hold a trial at which Google (the parent company) and its wholly-owned subsidiary Motorola Mobility have to defend themselves against Microsoft's assertion that Google Maps (with a particular focus on the Google Maps Android app) infringes EP0845124 on a "computer system for identifying local resources and method therefor".

    In a press release issued this morning the court, which ordered a handful of patent injunctions against Android-based devices in 2012 (three in Apple's favor and two over Microsoft patents), describes this trial as "the climax to date in the so-called smartphone wars" and mentions that Microsoft is seeking, among other remedies, an injunction against the operation of Google Maps "on, inter alia, smartphones".

    Microsoft originally sued only Motorola Mobility, but the micromanaged Google subsidiary, which is routinely represented by Google officials at German hearings and trials, denied knowledge of how Google's server farms integrate map image data and geographic search results. For lack of a German procedure comparable to U.S. discovery, the only efficient way for Microsoft to force Google to come clean was to target Google itself, which now requires it to explicitly deny the infringement contentions if it seeks to defend itself in Judge Dr. Matthias Zigann's court.

  • In a totally unrelated case that also happens to target a core Google service offered on smartphones, Nokia is suing HTC in Mannheim over its distribution of the Google Play app and content store client, which allegedly infringes EP0812120 on a "method for using services offered by a telecommunication network, a telecommunication system and a terminal for it". Judge Andreas Voss ("Voß" in German) of the Mannheim Regional Court will announce a decision, which may or may not be a final ruling, on Friday.

    The outcome of this lawsuit cannot be predicted based on how the trial went. The Mannheim Regional Court was on the verge of adjudging Nokia's claims over this patent against Apple in June 2011, but a week before the scheduled ruling, Apple and Nokia settled. Observers felt that Nokia was likely to prevail over Apple on this one.

    Nokia is also suing ViewSonic over this patent.

    Google is a third-party intervenor in the Google Play actions.

Device makers bear the brunt of Android patent infringement lawsuits, but the Google Maps and Google Play cases are particularly important to Google because they target online services that licensed Android devicers must ship (Google would not allow them to rely on third-party app stores or mapping services) and that are absolutely key not only to the Android user experience but also to Google's revenue generation through online advertising and the sale of apps and content.

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