Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Google tries to keep the door open to 4G patent attacks on Apple products with Qualcomm chips

Several new documents were filed yesterday in the Apple v. Motorola Mobility anti-suit action in the Southern District of California, in which Apple is asking the court to bar the wholly-owned Google subsidiary from asserting cellular standard-essential patents (SEPs) against Apple products incorporating Qualcomm chips (except in the same district or in Germany, where a license agreement is in place based on a royalty rate to be determined by a court). Apple argues that Motorola is not allowed to bring such assertions under a license agreement it has in place with Qualcomm, as Qualcomm's customers are protected under the deal. A summary judgment motion filed by Apple on Friday indicates that Google's Motorola gives the word "customer" a meaning Apple finds inconsistent with dictionary definitions.

In my post on the Friday motion (which I just linked to) I discussed the potential impact of this Southern California case, which is scheduled to go to trial next spring. The Friday motion relates to Motorola's "termination" of the Qualcomm agreement with respect to Apple as a third-party beneficiary. According to a document of which Apple provided a public redacted version yesterday, "Qualcomm has repeatedly and unequivocally advised Motorola that Motorola's efforts to terminate are improper and ineffective".

Yesterday Motorola also brought a couple of (partial) summary judgment motions and a motion to exclude an expert. One of the PSJ motions is really interesting because it reveals that Google wants to at least preserve its right to assert Motorola's 4G (Long-Term Evolution, LTE) patents against Apple products incorporating Qualcomm baseband chips. It's heavily-redacted, but to me it's beyond reasonable doubt that this is what the motion is about. Here's the document, and further below I'll explain why this is about 4G/LTE:

13-10-28 Motorola Mobility Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against Apple Re. Qualcomm Chips by Florian Mueller

The official title of the motion is "motion for partial summary judgment regarding Motorola's patents as applied to certain technology". Theoretically, this could be a lot of things. In practical terms, there's not a lot of possibilities. This is about Qualcomm baseband chips. We're talking about cellular communications technology.

The motion argues that "even if Apple were to prevail in establishing rights [under the Qualcomm-Motorola agreement], and even if the Court were to decide to issue a permanent injunction, Motorola moves the Court for partial summary judgment that the scope of any injunction could not encompass a prohibition against Motorola's future assertion of its patents as they apply to [REDACTED] against Apple's products due to their inclusion of Qualcomm components". So this is about excluding a certain technology from the scope of an injunction.

The redacted version of the motion indicates that the "certain technology" has a very short name. There are a couple of instances in which you can find the phrase "Motorola's patents as they apply", followed by a rather narrow black bar. Grammatically, it's clear that the redaction includes the preposition "to". Now, if there's a narrow bar and three of the characters it hides are T, O and a blank, then there isn't much left for the remainder. Two characters (4G), maybe three (LTE). But no more than that.

I read the whole motion, and while there's no definitive proof of this hypothesis due to redactions, there's nothing in the publicly-accessible part that suggests the assumption is wrong.

Motorola Mobility apparently claims to own about 9% of all patents declared essential to 4G/LTE.

Last year I watched a couple of Huawei-ZTE patent trials in Germany, and the question of whether a license agreement with Qualcomm does or does not extent to 4G/LTE also played a role in at least one of those litigations.

All in all, I had a very strong feeling that this is about 4G/LTE after reading the motion itself, and it became more than just a very strong feeling when I saw a declaration to which Motorola attached its exhibits. There are 14 exhibits. 12 of them relate to the ongoing litigation and the Qualcomm-Motorola deal. Two of them are about 4G/LTE:

7. Attached as Exhibit 5 is a true and correct copy of an article titled "LTE Overview" from 3GPP's website at http://www.3gpp.org/LTE.

8. Attached as Exhibit 6 is a true and correct copy of a press release dated December 1, 2010 from Verizon Wireless' website http://www.verizonwireless.com entitled "Verizon Wireless Launches the World's Largest 4G LTE Wireless Network on December 5".

In my opinion, this answers the question of what Google (Motorola) means by "certain technology". Nice try hiding this fact.

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