Google (and its Motorola Mobility subsidiary) have been engaged in a long-standing “patent war” with Apple over smartphone technology. A UK judge has recently invalidated one of Motorola’s patents that could have been “ammunition” in the patent fight. Will this make a difference?
The particular patent that was invalidated is European patent EP0847654, “MULTIPLE PAGER STATUS SYNCHRONIZATION SYSTEM AND METHOD.” The patent, which was filed in 1996 and granted in 2002, covers a technique to synchronize messages sent to multiple pagers. The patent provides an interesting example of how times change, and how new applications can come into existence that breathe new life into existing patents.
In the late ‘90s – before the “smartphone revolution” – pagers were much more common than they are today. People who really needed to stay in touch wore a pager at all times. So it’s not surprising that pager manufacturers catered to this fact by providing customers with different styles of pagers to coordinate with their clothing. Motorola’s patent explains:
Pagers come in different form factors or colors to complement a user’s attire. Thus, the user carries one pager at one time with one apparel outfit and another pager at another time with another outfit. For example, a neon-colored belt worn pager is used for a day at the beach, and a black and gold pen pager with a business suit is used for an evening business meeting.
Since one customer might have multiple pagers to go with different forms of attire, the technical question of “how do you keep the messages coordinated across multiple pagers” arose. Hence Motorola’s patent.
The same issue exists today, only instead of synchronizing pagers, the issue is synchronizing messages across the various devices that people own nowadays – desktop, laptop, tablet computer, smartphone. Microsoft’s Xbox and Apple’s iCloud both provide for message synching, and Motorola could in theory say their patent is applicable and demand royalties.
Microsoft didn’t want to wait for Motorola to sue, so it filed a preemptive lawsuit, asking a court in the UK to invalidate the patent before Motorola had a chance to sue on the basis of this patent.
Judge Richard Arnold held that the patent should be revoked. In his ruling he said that the patent failed the “obviousness” test – it is technology that would have been obvious to experts in the field who were working at that time.
Some bloggers seem to think that this invalidation, combined with the US Patent and Trademark Office recently invalidating some Apple patents is a sign that the sides are running out of ammunition so the smartphone wars will come to a halt.
Not likely. Motorola and Apple both have thousands of additional patents in their portfolios. Not every patent will pass judicial scrutiny under review, but both sides still have lots of “ammunition.”