Motorola Mobility continues its losing streak in synchronization war with Microsoft


I spent a good part of 2012 helping Microsoft to defend a law suit in the UK High Court against Motorola Mobility. You’ll recall that Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in 2011 with the intention of exploiting the many patents that Motorola had accumulated in the telecommunications space in their long and noble history.

And so a suit was duly filed alleging that Microsoft had infringed a 1986 patent describing a method to allow two pagers to synchronize their content with each other. Pagers are very simple devices, far less complex than the kind of mobile devices that we use today (or even a decade ago), and the suit alleged that Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync, Lync, and Live Messenger products infringed the patent by using the same method to synchronize information across multiple devices.

The case went to trial in December 2012 and resulted in a big win for Microsoft as Motorola Mobility couldn’t come up with a cogent or logical explanation about how ActiveSync (in particular) infringed the patent.

In any event, everyone loves a trier and Motorola Mobility duly headed back into the UK Court of Appeal to see if they could do any better there only to find that they fared no better second time round. After hearing all the arguments in the first case and reading the transcript from the appeal, you’d wonder what logic the Motorola Mobility lawyers saw in spending more money to chase the prospect of extracting license fees for ActiveSync. Oh well, it’s only money…

Motorola Mobility attempted to assert the same patent in Germany against Apple and Microsoft and lost there too.

And now they’ve failed in a case filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit where Motorola was defending itself against a claim by Microsoft that some technology in Android infringed US patent 6,370,566, filed in 2002 and describing how a mobile device synchronized objects held in its local store with a remote store (this doesn’t sound remarkable and to some degree, it’s a pretty obvious idea, but that is the nature of patents). The International Trade Commission had held previously that devices running Android that were imported into the U.S. infringed this Microsoft patent and some others.

Motorola Mobility argued that the synchronization method described in Microsoft’s patent was known previously and cited the Apple Newton MessagePad mobile device as prior art because the Newton included the “claimed synchronization component”. Motorola Mobility also argued that the synchronization method was disclosed in Apple’s documentation for the Newton.  (This Doonesbury strip from 1993 explains why the Newton failed)

It seems like big flaw in the argument was that the Newton synchronized its contents with a desktop using a direct connection between the mobile device and the desktop. This is unsurprising because we didn’t possess or use the kind of network connectivity that we have now when the Newton was around. Thus, you had to plug the Newton in before synchronization could occur rather than the kind of client-initiated synchronization that happens in ActiveSync. In the words of the judgment, there was “no clear and convincing evidence of any synchronization component in the Apple Newton MessagePad, regardless of whether that component actively managed synchronization or simply facilitated it.” (see bottom of page 7).

In any case, Motorola Mobility failed to convince the judges that Microsoft’s patent was invalid. We now await the next move in the ongoing legal saga between the two companies.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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About Tony Redmond ("Thoughts of an Idle Mind")

Exchange MVP, author, and rugby referee
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