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Motorola forces Apple to disable iCloud push email in Germany

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Remember earlier this month when Motorola won an injunction against push notifications of new email from Apple’s iCloud service in Germany? Apple didn’t do anything about it, so Motorola went back to the court and demanded the injunction be enforced. As a result, Apple has been required to disable push notifications for new email to iOS devices in Germany. Users will have to reconfigure their software to periodically poll to see if any new messages have arrived. Apple has posted instructions (English, German) for checking mail for both its iCloud and MobileMe services. No other features of iCloud or MobileMe are impacted.

Apple still maintains Motorola’s patent on the push service is invalid, and is appealing the decision that led to the injunction. The Motorola patent in the case substantially predates smartphones: Motorola applied for (and received) the patent way back when it was a leading player in the pager market.

The fact Motorola moved to have the injunction against push notifications from iCloud enforced indicates the company’s confidence that its patent will be upheld. If the patent is later declared invalid, Motorola would be on the hook for damages to Apple incurred as a result of enforcing the injunction.

The shutdown of push notifications from iCloud and MobileMe in Germany marks the first time Apple customers have been directly impacted by the very broad patent battles in the mobile industry—although earlier this month Apple had to briefly remove a few iOS products from its German online store.

The injunction is part of a broader patent battle between Apple and Motorola, which is in the process of being acquired by Google. Apple has also lodged an antitrust complaint against Motorola, arguing the company is abusing FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) licensing terms for patents essential to 3G communications technology used in the iPhone and iPad—Microsoft is also making similar accusations against Motorola. However, unlike the standards-essential patents in those disputes, the push-email technology is not included in any standard patent bundle, and the dispute between Apple and Motorola over the patent’s validity is separate from their dispute over mobile technology standards.

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