Judge Sides with Microsoft in Patent Case Against Motorola Mobility

A US District Court judge on Wednesday granted Microsoft’s preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order requests against Motorola Mobility, preventing the latter company from halting the sales of Microsoft’s products. Microsoft and Motorola are meanwhile waiting on a related ruling from a German court.

This action is the latest in a convoluted series of legal maneuvers by the two companies, which are themselves just part of a wider series of mobile-industry patent battles. Motorola had previously tried to halt the sale of certain key Microsoft (and Apple) products, an action that Microsoft described in February as “a broken promise.”

Central to this particular battle is the notion of fair and reasonable licensing terms for what’s called standard essential patents. And Motorola claims at least partial ownership of patents for commonly used, standards-based technologies for such things as playing video and Wi-Fi, patents that Microsoft says Motorola is wielding illegally as weapons against competitors.

Although no court has yet ruled on the argument at the heart of this matter, this week’s ruling means that Motorola’s attempt to prevent Microsoft from selling products such as Windows and the Xbox 360 has failed.

“Motorola promised to make its patents available to Microsoft and other companies on fair and reasonable terms,” Microsoft Deputy General Counsel David Howard said. “Today's ruling means Motorola can't prevent Microsoft from selling products until the court decides whether Motorola has lived up to its promise.”

Microsoft has posted a $100 million bond to cover damages that might occur should the court eventually rule in favor of Motorola.

The case dates back to October 2010, when Microsoft filed lawsuits against Motorola Mobility with both the US District Court and the International Trade Commission (ITC). Motorola counter-sued in the same venues, and since then both have filed various legal actions against the other. One of these actions included a Motorola injunction request with the Mannheim Justice Court in Germany. In that action, Motorola was seeking to halt the sales of Microsoft products in that country—a possibility that Microsoft says is illegal because of the FRAND (fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory) licensing regulations that apply to standard essential patents.

Apple and Motorola are embroiled in a similar fight, with Motorola trying to halt the sales of iPhone and iPad devices.

Meanwhile, the German court is set to rule next week on Motorola’s injunction request against Microsoft. But the US District Court ruling this week means that even if Motorola prevails in the related German case, it cannot prevent Microsoft from selling its products in Germany. So the German ruling, whatever the outcome, is somewhat superfluous at this point.

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