Apple would have been unable to import iPhones and iPads into the United States had an attempt by Motorola Mobility to assert six patents against these products succeeded.
Motorola Mobility - now owned by Google - started the action before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) in 2010.The ITC is an alternative forum to the conventional courts for patent disputes that involve products imported into the United States. It has the power to ban imports of infringing goods and can act relatively quickly.
The ITC decided against imposing a ban last year.Google appealed this decision over one of the patents.The U.S. Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit has just issued a ruling upholding the ITC's decision, deciding against Google, in favour of Apple.
The relevant patent relates to a smartphone that maintains a list of installed apps and that tells the network operator about changes to this list. This allows the operator to ensure that particular types of data, such as push notifications, are not sent to a phone unless it has a suitable app for handling them.
The Appeal Court upheld the ITC's finding that Apple's approach of activating or cancelling push notifications separately from the installation or deletion of the app, did not infringe the patent claims.
The Court also upheld the view that the patent claims did not, in fact, cover Motorola's own Droid 2 smartphone.This would have been required in order the International Trade Commission to be able to block imports of iPhones by Apple.
Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in 2012, with Motorola's portfolio of more than 17,000 mobile-phone patents being seen as a key factor in the sale price. Google is eager to strengthen its patent protection over its Android ecosystem in the face of fierce legal challenges by rivals such as Apple and Microsoft.
This latest Appeal Court judgement will come as a blow for Google in its ongoing battles with Apple. It remains to be seen whether Google will accept the judgement, or will seek a review by all the judges of the Appeal Court, or by the Supreme Court.
The finding that the Motorola patent not only didn't cover Apple's products, but also failed to cover Motorola's own device, is a reminder of the importance of ensuring that patents have as broad and as relevant a scope as possible.