Apple’s ‘slide-to-unlock’ victory over Motorola

motorola appleAfter Motorola won an injunction against Apple in German court — leading to the temporary removal of iPads and iPhones from the German online Apple Store earlier this month — Cupertino has volleyed its own legal cannonball, winning a patent dispute against Moto over the “slide to unlock” feature.

For those of you who haven’t been following the gritty details, Apple has been embroiled in lawsuits with Motorola in German regional court over what Motorola claims are violations of its mobile and wireless technology patents. In December of last year, the court issued an injunction against Apple for its use of a Motorola patent critical for GPRS. In doing so, Motorola succeeded in having offending iPhones and iPads actually removed from the German Apple Store — for a short time. Apple got itself a suspension of the order, and has been fighting to get it reversed ever since.

Then, less than a month ago, Motorola again sued Apple, this time in the Southern District of Florida, seeking to bar the sale of Apple’s iPhone 4S and iCloud over what Motorola says are six of its patents — a lawsuit that could possibly jeopardize Apple’s “push” notification system. Motorola has already been successful in achieving a separate injunction against Apple in Germany for Apple’s use of “push” notifications.   

It’s worth mentioning that some of the patents Motorola disputes are an essential part of the GPRS standard, a component to virtually all modern mobile phones. All Apple really has to do is pay a fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) licensing fee in order to use them legally, something Motorola has been loathe to agree to, according to Apple.

As far as slide to unlock is concerned, this patent is the first win for Apple in the ongoing legal battle. Motorola told Business Week that it “has implemented a new design for the feature. Therefore, we expect no impact on current supply or future sales.” The injunction against Motorola only applies to its Android 2.0 Gingerbread devices, which use a slide-unlock method similar to Apple’s. The Motorola Xoom tablet, which uses Android 3.0’s spherical unlock, was not part of Apple’s victory.

Google playing puppet master

For those of you thinking that this seems more like a proxy battle between Google’s Android operating system and Apple’s iOS, you’d be pretty much right. Google purchased Motorola Mobility (MMI), Motorola’s mobile division, in a $12.5 billion acquisition last year, mainly in a bid to protect its Android OS from lawsuits by using Motorola’s extensive mobile patent archive. European and US antitrust regulators approved the merger earlier this week.

What’s especially interesting, however, is that apparently Motorola actually had to get Google’s permission to sue Apple over the most recent injunction against iCloud: Because the suit involves the iPhone 4S, an Apple product that was released after Google’s acquisition of MMI, and the Google-Motorola Merger agreement does not authorize MMI to “assert any Intellectual Property Right in any new Action” without Google’s express consent, Google must have explicitly signed-off on the suit. If that’s the case, it seems only a matter of time before Apple and Google face each other head to head in a courtroom.

Image Credit: TechnoBuffalo

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