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May 2, 2012 at 6:03 AM

German judge rules against Microsoft in patent fight with Motorola

A German judge ruled today that Microsoft infringed on some of Motorola’s patents in Xbox and Windows.

The decision, coming out of a regional court in Mannheim, Germany, means that Motorola has won an injunction against the sales of Windows 7, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player and Xbox gaming consoles in Germany, according to Florian Mueller, an industry-property consultant who’s been following the case closely and wrote about the judge’s decision in his FOSS Patents blog. (Mueller tracks tech patent issues and has been commissioned by Microsoft to conduct a study on certain patents.)

The patents in question have to do with the H.264 video codec, which involve standards for viewing videos over the Internet.

But Motorola is not going to be able to enforce that injunction — at least for now — because a judge in Seattle last month granted Microsoft’s request to prevent Motorola from enforcing any such injunction.

Microsoft, which has indicated it would appeal the Mannheim judge’s decision at some point, issued a statement, saying:

This is one step in a long process, and we are confident that Motorola will eventually be held to its promise to make its standard essential patents available on fair and reasonable terms for the benefit of consumers who enjoy video on the web. Motorola is prohibited from acting on today’s decision, and our business in Germany will continue as usual while we appeal this decision and pursue the fundamental issue of Motorola’s broken promise.

Motorola, too, issued a statement, saying:

We are pleased that the Mannheim Court found that Microsoft products infringe Motorola Mobility’s intellectual property. As a path forward, we remain open to resolving this matter. Fair compensation is all that we have been seeking for our intellectual property.

The Mannheim litigation is part of a web of patent battles being fought between the two companies in courtrooms from Seattle to Washington, D.C., to Germany.

Motorola, which is in the process of being acquired by Google, is now the only company left fighting Microsoft over Android patents used in smartphones and tablets.

Microsoft claims that Google’s Android operating system, used in smartphones and tablets by various manufacturers, infringe on some of Microsoft’s patents. The software giant has either negotiated licensing deals, whereby manufacturers pay Microsoft royalties, or has taken some of the companies to court.

Earlier this week, Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced that they had settled their patent fight over the Nook, which runs on a forked version of Android.

So that leaves just Motorola battling it out with Microsoft.

The recent history of patent litigation between the two companies goes like this:

In October 2010, Microsoft filed lawsuits in both the U.S. District Court of Western Washington and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) against Motorola, claiming some Motorola devices running Android infringed on some of Microsoft’s patents related to active sync for Android.

Later that month, Motorola sent letters to Microsoft, asking for royalties of 2.25 percent of the sales price of each Xbox and Windows PC manufactured. Motorola claimed some of the technologies used in those products infringed on Motorola’s patents.

Microsoft characterized that royalty rate as outrageous, saying it would amount to $4 billion annually. In November 2010, the company filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court in Seattle, saying those patents Motorola wanted royalties on are patented technologies that have become industry standard in online video viewing and wireless usage. By demanding unreasonable rates for those patents, Microsoft argued, Motorola was breaching its agreement to provide use of such standards-essential patents at reasonable rates.

Motorola fired back through the ITC in November 2010 and in the Mannheim court in July 2011, suing Microsoft for patent infringement.

In April, Judge James Robart of the U.S. District Court in Western Washington sided with Microsoft’s motion to prevent Motorola from seeking and enforcing a possible ban on sales of Xbox and Windows PCs in Germany, should the judge in Mannheim rule that Microsoft did indeed infringe on Motorola’s patents. That temporary restraining order will hold at least until a May 7 hearing in Seattle on the standards-essential patents case.

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