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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

August 22, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Microsoft vs. Motorola patent case goes before International Trade Commission

One of the many battles in the smartphone patent war went before the International Trade Commission (ITC) today as Microsoft began arguing its case that Android-based smartphones made by Motorola Mobility infringed on seven of Microsoft’s patents.

In a trial that began today before the ITC in Washington, Microsoft accused Motorola Mobility of using technology derived from Microsoft inventions and requested a halt

to imports of certain Motorola phones, Bloomberg reported. The ITC has the power to stop imports of products that violate U.S. patent rights.

It’s one of several lawsuits Microsoft and Motorola have filed against each other. And it’s the first to be heard since Google, which created the Android operating system, announced Aug. 15 that it plans to buy Motorola Mobility, at least in part because of Motorola’s stash of mobile-phone technology patents

Florian Mueller, a consultant who writes the Foss Patents blog and has been following this and other related cases closely, believes that “Microsoft in a pretty strong position here. There’s no doubt that Microsoft innovatved in various areas in the last 10 to 20 years in fields of technology in which Android also sort of operates.”

Most of the time, such patent infringement cases are settled for a certain dollar amount. And Microsoft has licensing deals in which mobile-phone manufacturers pay Microsoft a certain amount per unit as a licensing fee to use technologies derived from its inventions.

But settling seems less likely these days with the patent war among smartphone- and operating system-manufacturers growing fiercer, Muller said.

And throwing a wrench into the works is Google’s involvement.

Google’s deal to buy Motorola has not yet been finalized and may not be for more than a year. Assuming the merger closes, Google will be in charge and it will want to make sure that any settlement benefits Google, Mueller said.

While Google, for now, cannot use Motorola in its legal battles before its deal is finalized, it still probably would not want Motorola to settle with Microsoft while the merger is still going ahead, Mueller believes.

What’s at stake is market share in a fast-moving, highly competitive market. If the ITC imposes an import ban, it’s unlikely that Motorola would move most of its manufacturing to the U.S., meaning Motorola would take a huge hit in U.S. sales. “It’s all the leverage you need to negotiate a settlement,” Mueller says.

Motorola is one of several companies that make Android phones and tablets that Microsoft has gone after in recent months, saying Microsoft has patents on some of the technologies found in certain Android features.

Microsoft has sued or persuaded the companies to pay it license fees.

In October 2010, Microsoft filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington and complained to the International Trade Commission, saying Motorola’s Droid phones, which use the Android platform, infringe on nine of Microsoft’s patents. (Microsoft dropped its claim on two of those nine patents for its ITC case. It’s still pushing forward on all nine in the federal court case.)

In November, Motorola countersued Microsoft in federal courts in California and Florida, saying Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows Phone 7, Hotmail and Exchange Server software infringe on its patents.

Separately, Google lost a patent bidding war for thousands of patents from computer-networking-software maker Novell, and Nortel, a telecom gear maker. Google lost to a consortium that included Microsoft, Apple and Research In Motion.

Earlier this month, Google’s chief legal officer, in a sharply worded blog item, accused Microsoft and others in the consortium of engaging in anti-competitive practices again Android. Microsoft’s chief spokesman fired back, saying Google had been asked to be part of the consortium to bid on the Novell patents but had turned the offer down.

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