Truce time: Apple, Google's Motorola dismiss patent suits against each other

The two handset vendors agreed to settle existing lawsuits but don't cross-license each other's technology.

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Josh Long/CNET

Apple and Motorola on Friday reached a truce, with the two companies agreeing to dismiss all patent-infringement claims against each other.

Apple and Motorola parent company Google said in a joint statement that "Apple and Google have also agreed to work together in some areas of patent reform." They added that the agreement doesn't include a cross license.

Apple and the various Android handset makers have been waging patent-infringement battles against each other all over the world. Apple has accused companies such as Samsung of infringing features of its iPhones and iPads, while the companies have countered that Google created the technology first and that Apple has infringed their patents.

For Apple, its suits against Android vendors are about more than money. What's really at stake is the market for mobile devices. Apple now gets two-thirds of its sales from the iPhone and iPad; Android has surpassed iOS as the world's most popular mobile operating system; and both want to dominate the market.

Apple and various handset rivals, such as HTC and Nokia, have reached settlements over the past couple of years. However, the highest-profile case -- Apple v. Samsung -- continues to work its way through the courts. A jury in San Jose, Calif., earlier this month ruled that both companies infringed some of each other's patents.

At the same time, Apple, Google, Samsung, and various other companies continue to fend off lawsuits from so-called patent trolls. Such entities wait for another company to develop products that allegedly infringe their intellectual property, then pounce. Allegedly offending companies often choose to license the patent; those that fail to do so typically face a protracted lawsuit.

According to Lex Machina, a Silicon Valley startup that crunches data to help companies such as Qualcomm and Hewlett-Packard change the way they approach patent lawsuits and licensing, Apple and Google are two of the biggest targets for lawsuits. In 2013, Apple was named as a defendant in 59 new cases, while Google was named in 39. Apple and Google are likely to work together on pushing for patent reform to limit the scope of patent trolls.

In the case dismissed Friday, Motorola sued Apple in 2010 in what some saw as a pre-emptive strike. It sought 2.25 percent of all net sales on Apple's iOS products that use essential industry-standard patents. Apple then filed suit against Motorola Mobility in March 2011. Companies that own industry-essential patents are expected to offer them under licensing terms that are "fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory," or FRAND for short. Apple accused Motorola of seeking excessive royalty payments for its patents that cover video streaming and Wi-Fi technology.

Over the course of the legal proceedings, many of Motorola's claims were tossed out, leaving the company with little ammunition. A district court judge in June of 2012 threw out the entire Apple v. Motorola case, saying that neither company was able to prove damages. He also ordered that neither would be permitted to refile a claim. However, an appeals court in late April revived the case and ruled that a trial could proceed. That ruling threw a wrench in the Apple v. Samsung case and resulted in both companies getting extra time to address one particular patent at issue in both suits.

Since the Apple v. Motorola suit began, Google reached a deal to sell Motorola to Chinese PC maker Lenovo for $2.9 billion. The sale likely contributed to Apple's decision to settle the case now.

John Quinn, the attorney whose firm represents Samsung, Google, and Motorola, predicted earlier this month, in an interview with CNET, that Apple will soon put an end to its patent-infringement lawsuits because it hasn't been able to shift market demand away from smartphones built on Google's Android software.

Reuters earlier reported the news.

Apple and Motorola dismiss patent suits

Updated at 5:20 p.m. PT with background information.

 

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