Apple dealt legal setbacks by Motorola in Germany

Motorola Mobility wins a permanent ban against Apple's push e-mail service, part of its iCloud offering. Apple had faced a ban on products in Germany, but received a temporary injunction on it.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read

It looks like constant patent litigation is taking its toll on Apple, which was dealt a pair of setbacks in Germany today.

Push email for Apple's iCloud service could be temporarily halted in Germany thanks to a recent ruling. Apple

Apple temporarily removed older iPhones from its online store in Germany due to a previous legal victory won by Motorola Mobility, according to legal blog Foss Patents. Slashgear later reported that Apple was granted a temporary halt on the ban.

Separately, the site also reported that a German court granted Motorola's request to permanently ban Apple's push e-mail services, a key feature of its iCloud offering.

So apparently Google's decision to cough up $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola for its patent portfolio was a wise move, with the handset manufacturer scoring a decent number of legal victories against Apple. Apple and Motorola have mixed it up in several courtrooms around the world, although the litigation battle hasn't been as intense as Apple's efforts against HTC and Samsung Electronics. That Motorola is taking the high ground on the litigation front bodes well for Google, which plans to use the patent portfolio to defend its Android partners.

Still, this was no decisive victory, with Apple already appealing the ban.

"Apple appealed this ruling because Motorola repeatedly refuses to license this patent to Apple on reasonable terms, despite having declared it an industry standard patent seven years ago," said an Apple spokeswoman.

"Although the enforcement of the injunction has been temporarily suspended, Motorola Mobility will continue to pursue its claims against Apple," said a Motorola spokeswoman.

Apple said it had removed older iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 4 models from its online store, said Floiean Mueller, who runs Foss Patents, citing a German news service. He notes that the iPhone 4S is still available, most likely because that model switched to a Qualcomm cellular radio, as opposed to the 3G UMTS versions that came before. Also removed were iPads with similar 3G UMTS connections.

The removal has to do with a December ruling that went in Motorola's favor. That ruling found that Apple had infringed on a patent dealing with one aspect of mobile cellular technology.

But Apple told Slashgear that the products would go back on the site. The company argued that the Motorola patent should be licensed under a fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory basis because it is considered an essential industry patent. Under that status, known in legal circles as FRAND, Apple should be able to buy the rights to use the patents at the same rates as everyone else because it is an agreed upon industry standard.

Mueller noted that the products were only removed from the online store, and they can still be purchased at retailers and Apple's own stores. He added that this lawsuit is key because Motorola is seeking a ban in the U.S. using the same patent.

German Apple users, meanwhile, could lose their push e-mail service as a result of a separate ruling that found the company had infringed on Motorola's patent. The "push" feature, part of iCloud, allows e-mails to be actively sent out to devices, as opposed to users having to manually open their e-mail client and "grab" messages. It's a feature that Research In Motion has long touted on its BlackBerrys, although other smartphones now offer the same feature, too.

"Apple believes this old pager patent is invalid and we're appealing the courts decision," an Apple spokeswoman said.

For now, the feature remains intact. But Apple may be forced to remove it if Motorola seeks to enforce the ban.

The lawsuits are all part of a broader strategy by Apple to both halt the momentum of Android and potentially extract licensing fees for its technology. As a result, Apple has hit many of the Android vendors with lawsuits, creating a legal battle on multiple fronts. Curiously, Apple hasn't gone after Google, which makes the Android platform. Google could eventually step in once it completes its acquisition of Motorola.

The trick has been for Apple or the Android partners to score a big enough legal victory--a ban on products in a major market--that it would force both sides to sit down and resolve their differences with some cross-licensing agreement. So far, neither side is budging.

Updated at 8:37 a.m. and 10:54 a.m. PT to note that Apple got a halt on the ban in Germany and to include updated statements from Apple and Motorola.