Microsoft Gets Upper Hand Against Motorola in Android Patent Suit

Microsoft is making headway in its patent infringement lawsuit against Motorola pertaining to the Android mobile operating system.

Microsoft filed the lawsuit against Motorola, which is also a partner with Microsoft on Windows Mobile, in October 2010. Microsoft's attorneys alleged that by using Android in its smartphones, Motorola infringed intellectual property in nine patents granted to Microsoft.

The lawsuit was filed in both the U.S. District Court for Western Washington and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), and is proceeding in both venues. However, in mid-May, Administrative Law Judge Theodore R. Essex, acting on behalf of the ITC filing following a so-called Markman hearing, ruled on the meaning of terms used in the nine patents. The judge ruled in favor of Microsoft's interpretation of those terms 17 times versus five times in favor of Motorola's interpretation, according to the publicly released claim construction order (PDF).

Keeping Score
The arguments over the terms in the patents involve interpreting the meaning of various phrases. For example, the judge ruled on the meaning of "short filename" and "long filename for the file," which apparently refer to Microsoft's File Allocation Table technology and associated patents.

The order goes through each patent systematically in a way that's tedious to relate. However, blogger Florian Mueller, who describes himself as an "intellectual property activist," provides a blow-by-blow scorecard here. Mueller has also created an infographic that tracks Android-based lawsuits overall.

According to a Microsoft spokesperson, the next step in this case will be a full ITC trial in about six months' time. The spokesperson said that the ITC organization is part of this case because Motorola imports technologies created abroad into the United States, and the ITC has the authority to file an injunction to block those imports. The Washington state district court proceeding is a separate and concurrent matter, handling such aspects as rewards for damages.

The Microsoft spokesperson had no information to share about the progress of the district court proceedings. Still, the administrative law judge's confirmatory interpretations of Microsoft's patents appear to bode ill for hardware device makers that use the Android mobile OS. Another device maker and Microsoft partner, HTC, settled with Microsoft rather than go to court, unlike Motorola.

Android Juggernaut
Android-based devices have been far outselling nascent Windows Phone 7 devices. In addition, Android and Apple iOS have maintained strong developer interest. Possibly, Microsoft's approach of suing its hardware partners is designed to slow Android's forward momentum thus far.

It's rumored that Motorola may be considering creating its own mobile OS, according to a March PCWorld story. If so, such a move might help Motorola avoid paying Microsoft future royalties should it lose this current legal dispute.

Google, which bought, developed and shepherded the Linux-based Android operating system, has allowed any hardware device maker to use the mobile OS without royalty costs. However, Google doesn't assure indemnity on any intellectual property associated with Android.

Device makers aren't totally without help from Google. According to Law Technology News, Google hired the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to provide a legal assistance in such patent disputes.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.