Germany's Federal Patent Court has struck down a contended Microsoft mapping patent, leaving Google and Motorola, as well as other smartphone providers, free to use the technology without licensing agreements in the country.
Microsoft argued that both Motorola Mobility, with its Android devices, and Google, with its Maps service and applications, had infringed on a mapping patent it owns.
The patent covers a "computer system for identifying local resources and method therefore". Originally filed in 1995, it sought to meet an emerging need in the growing web ecosystem. According to the patent, "it is not possible, using existing web search tools to answer questions such as 'where is the nearest hamburger restaurant?'" To meet this need, the patent laid out a method of storing map data on a server, and attaching it to other content, and then have it be readily accessible by client devices.
However, the German court invalidated the patent last week because it "lacked an inventive step", a court spokeswoman told PC World.
Typically, decisions from the Federal Patent Court require weeks or even months to be finalised in written form. However, Microsoft has already stated that it will appeal the ruling, a court official has confirmed. The court official called the notice of appeal at this stage "unhelpful," since in any case the company have to wait for the written judgment to proceed.
In Germany, Redmond initially sued the two companies in the Munich Regional Court in 2012, where it looked likely to win in 2013. At that time, some commentators worried that if the court ruled in Microsoft's favour, Google Maps would have to be shut down in the country. However, Motorola filed for a postponement of that case, until the case before the Federal Patent Court was resolved. Last week's ruling, if upheld on appeal, makes it likely that the Munich Regional Court will rule similarly.
In recent years, Microsoft has been pursuing a strategy of profiting from licensing its owned software patents to Android smartphone manufacturers. Companies like LG, Samsung, and HTC have signed licensing agreements with Microsoft that can reportedly cost the manufacturers up to $15 per phone sold.