By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
February 3, 2012

Apple forced to pull older iPhones off its online store, faces an injunction on push e-mail

UPDATE: Sales of Apple’s iPhones resumed Friday. See here.

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It was a crazy day for Apple (AAPL) in Germany.

First it removed the iPhone 4 and 3GS from its German online store — the first time, as far as we know, that the company has been forced to stop selling a product because of alleged patent infringement. Then a judge in Mannheim Regional Court granted Motorola (MOT) a permanent injunction that would prevent Apple’s customers in Germany from using the push e-mail services of iCloud or MobileMe.

There are workarounds in both cases.

  • Push e-mail will still work until Motorola tries to enforce the ruling (to do so it must first post a 100 million Euro bond). If it does, users can set up their iPhone clients to check for new mail every few minutes.
  • The iPhone 4S is still available for sale online, and Apple has apparently stockpiled enough older iPhones in advance of Friday’s action to meet demand. “Customers should have no problem finding them at one of our retail stores or an authorized reseller,” a company spokesperson told several news outlets.

Meanwhile, Apple is headed back to court. “Apple believes this old pager patent [in the e-mail case] is invalid and we’re appealing the courts decision,” a spokesperson told PaidContent. And the patent that forced Apple to pull the older iPhones offline is for the kind of industry standard technology that got Samsung in legal hot water for refusing to license under so-called Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

According to FOSS Patents‘ Florian Mueller, who as usual has the most detailed coverage of these matters (see here and here), one of the reasons Motorola has been doing particularly well in the Mannheim court is because it is represented by Quinn Emanuel, which, he says, “has an incredible track record in commercial litigation in general and IP litigation in particular.”

In any event, the financial impact of today’s actions should be minimal, according to RBC Capital’s Mike Abramsky:

“We estimate that Apple’s online sales of iPhone 3G/4 and iPad in Germany account for 90% of iPhone sales (Germany accounts for 4-5% of global iPhone and iPad sales, and we estimate online <33% of German sales). iPad3 expected in March may not be subject to the ban, if it moves to a Qualcomm baseband (like the iPhone 4S).”

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