Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s preliminary victory in a patent-infringement case brought by Google Inc. (GOOG) (GOOG)’s Motorola Mobility unit over a phone sensor will be reviewed by a trade agency that has the power to block imports of the iPhone.
The U.S. International Trade Commission said yesterday it will take a second look at parts of ITC Judge Thomas Pender’s findings that the Motorola Mobility patent is invalid. Notice of the decision was posted on the agency’s website. The commission is scheduled to make a final decision April 22.
The patent, for a sensor that prevents the phone from accidentally hanging up when close to a person’s face, is all that’s left of a case Motorola Mobility brought against Apple in 2010. The ITC in August said Apple didn’t infringe two Motorola Mobility patents related to wireless technology used throughout the mobile 3G patents.
Apple, with $78.7 billion in iPhone sales last fiscal year, has sued companies, including Motorola Mobility and Samsung Electronics Co., making handsets that run on Google’s Android operating system. Apple contends they copied features that make the iPhone and iPad tablet computer unique. It’s part of a battle for bigger share of the global mobile-device market that researcher Yankee Group expects to double to $847 billion by 2016.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, paid $12.4 billion for Motorola Mobility in large part to get access to its trove of more than 17,000 patents and gain leverage against Apple.
Pender in December said the Google patent is invalid because it isn’t different enough from an earlier invention for a sensor to prevent accidental dialings. “In making this finding, I note that I do not consider the issue to be close,” the judge said in his full opinion.
Motorola Mobility argued the earlier invention was limited to push-button keys, not touch screens. The judge did say that, were the patent valid, Apple was infringing it. Apple asked the commission to review the infringement finding if it decided to consider Motorola Mobility’s arguments on validity.
The commission said it is reviewing what the phrase “touch sensitive input device” means and would look at both validity and infringement.
Apple and Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Motorola Mobility and Cupertino, California-based Apple have lobbed patent-infringement complaints against each other in Wisconsin and Florida. The Wisconsin cases, transferred to Chicago, were thrown out and are currently on appeal, while the Florida cases are pending.
Apple filed its own patent-infringement case at the ITC against Motorola Mobility and lost. The appeal in that case is scheduled to be heard March 7 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington.
The case is In the Matter of Certain Wireless Communication Devices, Portable Music and Data Processing Devices, Computers and Components Thereof, 337-745, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).
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