Friday, May 10, 2013

Florida judge pushes back Google-Apple patent trial from April to August 2014

About a month ago I reported on a claim construction scheduling decision by Judge Robert N. Scola in the Southern District of Florida concerning a Motorola Mobility v. Apple two-way lawsuit, which is (since Motorola's ITC complaint against Apple has been dismissed entirely) the only case in which Google's Motorola Mobility is asserting non-standard-essential patents against Apple. The judge was displeased with the parties' lack of cooperation concerning the narrowing of the case and decided to give them four additional months to think hard about this.

Apple does not appear to be afraid of this case, but it's previously played tactical games to slow it down. Motorola is a distraction for Apple, and the real focus is on Samsung. As long as Google's Motorola doesn't make enough headway to force Apple into a global settlement relating to all Android-based devices (including those sold by Samsung and other third-party device makers), everything's fine.

In May 2012 Judge Scola amended the schedule. Based on that order, the trial would have begun on April 21, 2014. In an order issued yesterday and published today, Judge Scola updated the overall case schedule in light of last month's scheduling decision concerning claim construction. The whole case has now been slowed down by more than four months. The new trial date is August 26, 2014.

Motorola had already complained, in the form of a motion for reconsideration, that last year's decision would result in "manifest injustice" -- which didn't impress the judge in the slightest. To add insult to injury, it now has to wait another four months.

The original complaint in this case was filed in early October 2010. This means the new trial date is almost four years after the filing of the original complaint. The original case was consolidated with a second one Motorola brought early last year with green light from Google under a provision in the merger agreement governing new IP assertions prior to the closing of the deal, an act of impatience that ultimately, and indirectly, resulted in a major delay. If the case had gone forward as originally planned, the trial would have taken place last summer -- roughly two years before the latest trial date.

Apple has also experienced situations in which its own patent assertions, particularly most of the ones it brought against HTC, weren't adjudicated by U.S. courts in years. The Florida case is a rare exception in which a delay is convenient for Apple.

The next Apple-Google trial in the United States is now (absent another rescheduling) going to be held in October 2013. It will relate to a patent exhaustion case brought by Apple against Motorola Mobility in the Southern District of California with respect to its use of Qualcomm baseband chips. It's an opportunity for Apple to defeat all Motorola cellular SEP claims against Apple devices incorporating Qualcomm chips -- not a patent infringement action in which Google could score an offensive win.

Google isn't really extracting much value, if any, out of the patent part of the Motorola deal (there also issues concerning the non-patent part of the deal, but I'm not going to talk about them here). The Florida delay follows a Statement of Objections (SO), a preliminary antitrust ruling by the European Commission, issued earlier this week against Google's attempt to leverage standard-essential patents against Apple in Germany, and a series of losses (and only minor wins) in April.

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