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Seattle Judge Postpones Decision on Microsoft vs. Motorola Case

A judge in the U.S. District Court for Western Seattle today postponed a decision in a patent dispute between Microsoft and Motorola Mobility.

However, the judge, James L. Robart, indicated resistance to both parties' claims, which are associated with H.264 video codec technology used in Microsoft's Xbox gaming console. According to an account published today by The Seattle Times, Judge Robart said he will likely deny Motorola's contention that Microsoft relinquished its right to license the technology under reasonable terms and he's also likely to deny breach-of-contract claims by Microsoft.

The dispute is partly about what's fair under "fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory" (FRAND) licensing terms associated with standard-essential patents. It's also indirectly about other litigation -- mostly associated with the mobile smartphone markets. For instance, with regard to non-FRAND patents, Microsoft has applied unrelenting pressure on smartphone hardware makers over intellectual property allegedly associated with the use of the Android Linux-based mobile operating system.

Microsoft claims that about 70 percent of original equipment manufacturers have struck agreements with Microsoft over technologies allegedly infringed by Android. That constitutes an attack on Google indirectly, since it fostered Android, which currently leads as the No.1 leading mobile OS in use.

Google is currently engaged in getting final regulatory approvals to buy Motorola Mobility. The acquisition will bolster Google's defensive patent portfolio against future Android litigation by Microsoft and Apple. Apple too has lodged intellectual property claims over Android use.

The judge appeared to acknowledge this context in the Xbox dispute.

"The court is well aware it is being used as a pawn in a global, industry-wide business negotiation," Robart said, according to The Seattle Times article.

The Seattle court has imposed a restraining order on a German court's earlier ruling that Microsoft infringed Motorola Mobility's FRAND intellectual property. Without that order in place, certain Microsoft products, such as Xbox, Windows 7, Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player 12, would be prohibited from being sold in that country.

Both Microsoft and Apple have separately complained to European Union authorities about Motorola Mobility's interpretation of FRAND licensing. The European Commission is currently looking into the matter. Motorola Mobility is seeking 2.25 percent of Xbox net sales, but Microsoft claims that would amount to $4 billion in annual royalties and that the amount would not be fair under FRAND licensing.

In addition to the Seattle venue, Motorola and Microsoft have carried on this dispute about Xbox and its alleged use of patented technology to the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. According to The Seattle Times, an ITC judge earlier found that Microsoft had violated four of Motorola Mobility's patents. However a final decision on that case from the six ITC commissioners is still pending.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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