Moto’s patent victory may bring faster, cheaper innovations
BY SANDRA GUY Business Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org June 25, 2012 3:12PM
Motorola's Droid wass one of the company's smartphones targeted by Apple in a lawsuit decided in Motorola's favor Friday in a Chicago court.
Updated: July 27, 2012 6:17AM
Gadget geeks could see cheaper copies of the latest new mobile app, cellphone feature or smartphone as a result of a Chicago federal judge’s opinion, but software companies may pull back on developing those innovations if they’re openly available to be reused, experts say.
The ruling Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Posner said neither Apple nor Motorola could prove it had suffered damages in the companies’ ongoing patent war, and that Apple’s efforts to obtain an injunction to make Motorola change a chip and a pattern-recognition feature, among other conflicts, were implausible and would not have “catastrophic effects” on consumers and the mobile device market.
In effect, Posner dismissed the case and denied the companies the right to file the same cases again.
The issue at the heart of the case is software patents, which technology companies are bringing to court because Congress has failed to police these types of patent rights, said Christal Sheppard, an assistant law professor at the University of Nebraska and a former attorney who advises the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on such matters.
“This decision leaves the mobile device and high-tech industry unable to assert their patent rights in court,” Sheppard said. “It really comes down to the question: Should software be patent-able?”
Though Posner’s ruling is just one judge’s opinion, Sheppard said he is so highly respected in patent law that other judges are likely to follow his lead.
If software cannot be patented, consumers will see lots more innovations more quickly and at cheaper prices, but the companies investing in the innovations may spend less money on key, unique features that their rivals can easily copy, she said.
An example of the kind of wars the technology companies were willing to wage for enormous damage claims — enough to knock out the possibility of licensing their innovations — was the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs saying he was “willing to go to thermonuclear war” over a patent lawsuit Apple filed against Google. Jobs claimed that Google’s Android operating system had copied the iPhone.
Posner wasn’t shy about showing how fed up he was with both Apple’s and Motorola’s tactics. Here’s a sampling of Posner’s rebuke:
† He called an Apple witness’ testimony “inviting guesswork” and said Motorola appeared to be “going for broke” in its damages claim against Apple.
† Motorola’s “fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory” commitments let anyone use its patents as long as the users pay a royalty. Posner said: “How could [Motorola] be permitted to enjoin Apple from using an invention that [Motorola] contends Apple must use if it wants to make a cell phone with UMTS telecommunications capability — without which it would not be a cell phone?”
Posner accused Apple of trying to turn the courtroom battle into a media popularity contest when it is obvious the two companies are going after each other in a high-stakes rivalry.
“Apple attempts what I told its legal team at a pretrial conference I would not let it do: . . . turn the case into an Apple versus Motorola popularity contest. Apple wanted me to allow into evidence media reports attesting to what a terrific product the iPhone is,” he wrote.
Posner said Apple couldn’t show that “minor-seeming infringements” by Motorola could have cost Apple market share and consumer goodwill.
The delicate balance continues between letting innovators throw everything onto an open market and giving companies the right to protect their investments.