Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Motions for judgment on the pleadings denied in Microsoft-Google FRAND breach case

On September 4, a federal jury rendered a verdict on the claim of a breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing in the Microsoft v. Motorola FRAND contract case in the Western District of Washington, finding Google's Motorola to have reneged on its FRAND pledge and awarding Microsoft $14.5 million in damages. After the verdict Motorola said it was looking forward to an appeal, but in order to bring an appeal, it needs a final ruling, and at the current pace I guess the court will issue one well before the end of the year.

After the pleadings to the jury, both parties brought motions for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL). Either party claimed that the evidence supported a finding only in its favor, making a jury verdict unnecessary and asking the court for a directed verdict. As the jury found for Microsoft anyway, Judge Robart saw no more basis for Microsoft's motion and asked Microsoft whether it would withdraw its motion. Microsoft agreed with the judge in principle but didn't believe that a withdrawal was the appropriate procedural path. In the event of a withdrawal, Motorola could have claimed later (on appeal) that Microsoft had waived certain arguments or that it used surprise tactics by raising them on appeal. Microsoft explained that if the appeals court agreed with it that the case could have been decided in its favor even without asking a jury, then this would render irrelevant any claim by Motorola that it was prejudiced by the court's jury instructions, so it wanted to preserve its record with respect to its JMOL theories. But recognizing that it wouldn't make a difference for the purposes of the trial court if its motion was granted, it suggested that the court could deny its JMOL motion as moot. And that's what happened.

Motorola brought even two JMOL motions during the trial: one after Microsoft rested its case-in-chief and one after it rested its defensive case. These motions had largely identical content. I'm sure that Motorola never seriously expected those motions to be granted. It brought them to preserve the record.

Yesterday Judge Robart entered an order denying those motions for JMOL (this post continues below the document):

13-09-24 Order Denying Motorola's Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings by Florian Mueller

In his order, Judge Robart noted that Motorola presented certain theories and arguments that the court had previously rejected. Just like Motorola's motions were a déjà-vu experience, so are various passages of the order that refer to earlier rulings. The "new" parts basically came down to Motorola saying that Microsoft had not presented sufficient evidence based on which a reasonable jury could find a breach and award damages based on Microsoft's claims. Judge Robart obviously disagrees. The question here is whether the facts when seen in light of the non-moving party (Microsoft) allow a reasonable jury to reach a conclusion in Microsoft's favor. And there was enough evidence to support the jury's findings.

The Motorola motions denied today were filed under Rule 50(a). We may still see one or two post-trial motions. Under Rule 50(b), Motorola could ask the court to overrule the jury, but it's hard to see how such a motion could raise any new issue beyond the Rule 50(a) motions with respect to liability. Also, a Rule 59 motion for a new trial could still be brought. Needless to say it wouldn't go anywhere due to the facts of this case.

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