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Timothy B. Lee

Timothy B. Lee

Timothy B. Lee covers technology policy, including copyright and patent law, telecom regulation, privacy, and free speech. He also writes about the economics of technology. He has previously written for Ars Technica and Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter or send him email.

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Brian Fung

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government. She also delves into the societal impacts of technology access and how innovation is intertwined with cultural development.

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Posted at 08:25 AM ET, 08/22/2011

Smartphone patent wars heat up: Microsoft v. Motorola

The Google Inc. homepage is seen on a Motorola Holdings Inc. mobile device, running on Google's Android software, in Park Ridge, Illinois, U.S. (Tim Boyle - BLOOMBERG)
Microsoft’s patent infringement complaint against Motorola will be heard this week by the International Trade Commission. It is one of a growing number of cut-throat disputes over smartphone technology that companies believe will determine which players dominate the mobile space in the future.

Starting Monday, the quasi-federal agency, ITC, will deliberate Microsoft’s claim that Motorola’s Android software-based phones infringed nine patents held by the Redmond, Wa.-based software giant.

If the ITC rules in favor of Microsoft, the court could ban imports of Motorola’s Android-based phones. Microsoft said the judge is expected to issue an initial ruling on Nov. 4 and a final ruling in March 2012.

David Howard, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel for litigation, said that Microsoft has a “responsibility to our employees, customers, partners and shareholders to safeguard our intellectual property.”

“Motorola is infringing our patents and we are confident that the ITC will rule in our favor,” Howard said.

The hearing comes one week after Google announced its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola. Post reporter Jia Lynn Yang wrote last week about how the deal gives Google 17,000 wireless technology patents.

“We are vigorously defending ourselves against Microsoft's patent attack business strategy,” Motorola said in a statement. “We have also brought legal actions of our own in the US and in Europe to address Microsoft's large scale of infringement of Motorola Mobility's patents."

Meanwhile, federal regulators launched an antitrust probe into the $4.5 billion purchase of 6,000 Nortel wireless patents by a consortium of Google’s rivals — including Microsoft, Apple and Research in Motion. The investigation is aimed at determining if the consortium unfairly blocked Google from bidding for the patents.

Google’s chief legal counsel, David Drummond, called the consortium anticompetitive. He wrote in a blog post that a smartphone “might involve as many as 250,000 (largely questionable) patent claims, and our competitors want to impose a ‘tax’ for these dubious patents that makes Android devices more expensive for consumers.”

Some tech giants are bypassing regulatory agencies, choosing instead to duke it out in the courts.

Among the cases: Motorola has filed its own complaint against Microsoft for patent infringement. HTC last week sued Apple (Apple has sued HTC, too) seeking to block imports of iPods and iPhones among other products. Last month, InterDigital sued Nokia, Huawei, and ZTE for allegedly infringing seven wireless patents.


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