Apple, Google square off once more in patent spat

Apple and Google are once again canvassing the courtroom as the tech giants argue over the reopening of a lawsuit concerning mobile phone technology patents.

credit brian turner
Credit: Brian Turner

Apple and Google subsidiary Motorola Mobility have ended up back in court in a battle over whether a lawsuit should be reopened concerning the alleged misuse of mobile technology patents.

The tech giants have accused each other of infringing on a number of patents related to mobile phones, as reported by Reuters. Within the case, which went under review originally in 2010, the iPad and iPhone maker argues that Motorola Mobility has infringed on four patents, whereas the rival firm says that Apple infringes upon a standard-essential patent which allows a mobile phone to function properly.

Standard-essential patents must be licensed under reasonable and non-discriminatory terms -- otherwise known as FRAND licensing -- by law. 

The case was originally dismissed in June at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, where Judge Richard Posner said neither company had sufficient evidence to pursue the allegations further. However, Motorola Mobility filed an appeal to have the case reopened.

In August, the Federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. found that the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) made a mistake by invalidating one Apple patent and finding that Google's Motorola Mobility unit did not violate another -- specifically, a patent which explains how to make a touchscreen transparent. As a result, the presiding judge ruled that the agency was mistaken in its original judgement, and Apple could resurrect its patent claims against Motorola Mobility.

Google purchased Motorola Mobility in May 2010 for $12.5 billion, just after Apple filed its lawsuit.

Judge Sharon Prost, who is overseeing the appeal with two other judges, questioned both parties on Wednesday to decide whether the firms had tried hard enough to agree on licensing deals to use the patents, or whether one or the other was an "unwilling licensee."

In March, Google argued that Apple is an unwilling licensee -- a party that does not seriously negotiate a patent license, and so is guilty of infringement. Under this definition, a company could face sales bans on products that use infringing technology. In this case, Apple argues it is not an unwilling licensee, but was unhappy with paying rates that are "12 times" the amount previously paid to use the patent.

The Federal Circuit appeals court could take months to reach a decision.

Technology giants around the world have filed hundreds of patents to protect intellectual property within the lucrative smartphone and tablet market. Apple has previously argued that Google's rival Android smartphones copy elements of the iconic iPhone, Samsung has taken Apple to court over design features, and Oracle has accused Google of infringing 37 Java application programming interfaces (APIs) within the Android operating system.