Sunday, January 5, 2014

Intellectual Ventures may cash in on Google Play after this month's Motorola patent trial

In October 2011, patent aggregator Intellectual Ventures, which a long time ago received one of its first investments ever from Google, sued Motorola Mobility over six patents, mostly software patents allegedly infringed by Android. At that time, Motorola Mobility was in the process of being acquired by Google.

The case will finally proceed to a jury trial in a couple of weeks (on January 21, 2014, to be precise), and the Google subsidiary will have to defend itself against five of the six originally-asserted patents. In strategic terms, it appears to me that the two most interesting ones are alleged to read on the Google Play app and content store, making a defeat potentially rather costly to Google.

I must admit that I haven't been following that litigation closely over the years, but an article by LitigationDaily's Jan Wolfe on a January 2 summary judgment opinion by the judge presiding over this litigation in the District of Delaware, Judge Sue L. Robinson, reignited my interest in this case.

Google's carpet-bombing summary judgment motion challenged each and every one of the six patents in suit on two counts: (in)validity and (non-)infringement. Google was hoping to narrow the case ahead of the jury trial and succeeded to only a very limited extent:

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,810,144 on a "file transfer system for direct transfer between computers":

    Judge Robinson agreed that claim 26 is not infringed, but otherwise denied Google's motion with respect to this patent. Claims 10 and 41 (both of which are independent claims) will be put before the jury.

  • U.S. Patent No. 6,412,953 on an "illumination device and image projection apparatus comprising the device":

    Judge Robinson found this patent obvious over a combination of two prior art references, making it irrelevant that she declined to side with Google on non-infringement.

With respect to the other four patents-in-suit, Google's summary judgment motion failed completely. Let's firstly take a look at the two most interesting patents-in-suit, which IV claims are infringed by Google Play:

  • U.S. Patent No. 6,557,054 on a "method and system for distributing updates by presenting directory of software available for user installation that is not already installed on user station":

    "IV contends that Motorola indirectly infringes the asserted claims of the '054 patent by providing smartphones on which the Google Play store application is installed, thereby inducing or contributing to the performance of the claimed methods when users of those smartphones use Google Play to download or update software applications." (quoted from the summary judgment opinion)

  • U.S. Patent No. 6,658,464 on a "user station software that controls transport, storage, and presentation of content from a remote source":

    "IV has accused Motorola of infringing claims 1-8, 16-17, 19-27, 35-36, and 38 of the '464 patent because Motorola sells handsets on which Google Play is installed." (quoted from the summary judgment opinion)

The '054 and '464 patents are too old to be relevant from the perspective of injunctive relief, but IV can seek damages. Should IV prevail over MMI on one or both of these Google Play-related patents, it could also sue Google for damages (unless there's a license agreement in place, which I doubt). Such a follow-on lawsuit could become costly since it's always easier to make a damages argument to a judge and a jury when a patented invention is directly relevant to revenue generation.

For the sake of a complete record, these are the remaining patents-in-suit for the January 21 trial:

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,409,450 on a "transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP) packet-centric wireless point to multi-point (PtMP) transmission system architecture"

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,120,462 on a "portable computing, communication and entertainment device with central processor carried in a detachable handset"

Last year Intellectual Ventures filed a second patent infringement suit against Google's Motorola Mobility. Unlike the first one, it was brought in the Southern District of Florida. It involves former Nokia patents, with respect to some of which Google raised its first FRAND defense ever.

As for Google Play, this month's Delaware trial won't be the first and won't be the last one where Google's Android app and content store is at issue. Last year the Mannheim Regional Court dismissed a couple of German Nokia v. HTC lawsuits over Google Play (presumably on appeal). Shortly thereafter, Nokia again attacked Google Play: in its second ITC complaint against HTC, triggering an intervention by Google. Last month I found out that Nokia and Motorola Mobility also have some patent licensing issues to sort out, which almost certainly involve Google Play as well.

If you'd like to be updated on the smartphone patent disputes and other intellectual property matters I cover, please subscribe to my RSS feed (in the right-hand column) and/or follow me on Twitter @FOSSpatents and Google+.

Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: