Apple and Google call patent dispute truce

Out-Law News | 19 May 2014 | 5:10 pm | 2 min. read

Apple and Google have confirmed that they have ended all existing patent disputes between them.

The businesses had been in a number of disputes in relation to mobile patents in both the US and Europe, but have now agreed to bring an end to those cases.

"Apple and Google have agreed to dismiss all the current lawsuits that exist directly between the two companies,” the companies said in a joint statement, according to a Bloomberg report. "Apple and Google have also agreed to work together in some areas of patent reform. The agreement does not include a cross license."

Google's enforcement of patents increased following its acquisition of Motorola Mobility (Motorola) in 2012. At the time of the takeover Motorola owned approximately 17,000 patents and had made a further 6,000 applications in relation to mobile devices, which represented a significant increase in Google's own patent portfolio at the time.

However, patent law specialist Indradeep Bhattacharya of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said he believed the global patent dispute that has subsequently ensued between Google and Apple had "yielded relatively little, in terms of concrete commercial outcome, for either party".

"Apple has failed to stop the march of Google's Android operating system for mobile devices and has, subject to some limited exceptions, generally struggled to prove that it owns any functional features of Android," Bhattacharya said. "For Google, which has tried to rely on standard-essential patents (SEPs) it acquired from Motorola as a bargaining tool, the legal landscape turned and it is now pretty difficult to aggressively enforce, or obtain injunctive relief over, SEPs."

Last month, the European Commission ruled that Motorola Mobility breached EU competition rules when it asked a German court to prevent Apple from using standardised technology it owned patent rights for.

In the case, the Commission said that the company abused a dominant market position "by seeking and enforcing" an injunction against Apple which banned the technology giant from infringing a standard-essential patent (SEP) owned by Motorola relevant to mobile and wireless communications. However, the Commission decided against imposing a fine against Motorola over its behaviour.

It found that Apple had shown itself to be a willing licensee of Motorola's SEP by agreeing to be bound by any court determination on what would constitute a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) licence to use the patent in the event that the companies could not agree on royalty rates and other conditions between themselves.

In those circumstances the Commission criticised Motorola for using the threat of injunctive proceedings to pressure Apple into "a settlement agreement with very restrictive conditions" and said that it was also wrong that Apple had been required by Motorola to waive rights to challenge its patents before courts in Germany as part of the deal.

"I think tech companies are realising that given everyone is now in everyone else’s space, ‘patent wars’ can often be futile," Bhattacharya said. "Substantive patent reform is desperately needed though so far it hasn’t really attracted the same kind of attention in Europe as it has in the US."

The Apple and Google truce is the latest in a list of patent dispute settlements reached between major technology companies. South Korean device manufacturer giant Samsung and Google agreed a new cross-licensing patent agreement in January, whilst Ericsson, the Sweden-based telecoms company, announced that it has also reached an agreement with Samsung on the cross licensing of some SEPs related to technologies used to deliver 2G, 3G and 4G mobile internet connections.

In addition, Twitter bought more than 900 patents held by IBM and entered into a separate cross-licensing agreement with the computing giant in February.

In perhaps the biggest ongoing feud, Apple is still in dispute with Samsung over mobile patents in a number of countries around the world, including the UK.