Microsoft files ITC patent complaint against Motorola/Android

October 1, 2010, 7:21 PM UTC

Two more wireless companies sue each other.

Happier times when Motorola was making Microsoft Smartphones

Motorola (MOT) has worked with Microsoft over the years producing smartphones like the Motorola Q.  Last year however, with Motorola’s stock tanking and Microsoft (MSFT) offering nothing in the way of modern operating systems, CEO Sanjay Jha announced that they were ‘all in’ on Android.  Since that time, Motorola has had some significant success, particularly with their Droid line-up.  Motorola this year snubbed Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7 platform, sticking with Android.

But Microsoft doesn’t take a breakup that easily.  Today they filed a suit with the ITC over  patents involving “synchronizing e-mail, calendars and contacts, scheduling meetings, and notifying applications of changes in signal strength and battery power.”  They signaled out Motorola and Android although the suit is technically directed at Motorola.

To put it more bluntly, they are suing Motorola but they are after Android.

My view is that this is a warning shot: Let this be a lesson to HTC, LG and Samsung who are launching Windows 7 phones this month.  If those companies consider abandoning Microsoft for Android, they’ll likely be on the wrong end of another lawsuit.

To prove this view, take HTC’s case.  A few months ago, Microsoft backed up HTC in its Android litigation against Apple (AAPL).  Apple sued HTC in much the same way Microsoft is suing Motorola.  Which makes Microsoft counsel Horacio Gutierrez’s statement on the Motorola suit all that more confusing:

Our action today merely seeks to ensure respect for our intellectual property rights infringed by Android devices; and judging by the recent actions by Apple and Oracle (reference), we are not alone in this respect.

So the message from Microsoft is: If you build Windows 7 Series phones, we’ll protect you from Android suits.  However, if you don’t build phones for us, we’ll sue you ourselves!

Update: a Google spokesperson told me in a statement: “We are disappointed that Microsoft prefers to compete over old patents rather than new products. Sweeping software patent claims like these threaten innovation. While we are not a party to this lawsuit, we stand behind the Android platform and the partners who have helped us to develop it.”

Here’s a breakdown of the patents:

  • 5,579,517: Common name space for long and short filenames
  • 5,758,352: Common name space for long and short filenames (yes, again)
  • 6,621,746: Monitoring entropic conditions of a flash memory device as an indicator for invoking erasure operations
  • 6,826,762: Radio interface layer in a cell phone with a set of APIs having a hardware-independent proxy layer and a hardware-specific driver layer
  • 6,909,910: Method and system for managing changes to a contact database
  • 7,644,376: Flexible architecture for notifying applications of state changes
  • 5,664,133: Context sensitive menu system/menu behavior
  • 6,578,054: Method and system for supporting off-line mode of operation and synchronization using resource state information
  • 6,370,566: Generating meeting requests and group scheduling from a mobile device

Press release follows:

Microsoft Files Patent Infringement Action Against Motorola
REDMOND, Wash. – Oct. 1, 2010 – Microsoft Corp. today filed a patent infringement action against Motorola, Inc. and issued the following statement from Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing:

“Microsoft filed an action today in the International Trade Commission and in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against Motorola, Inc. for infringement of nine Microsoft patents by Motorola’s Android-based smartphones. The patents at issue relate to a range of functionality embodied in Motorola’s Android smartphone devices that are essential to the smartphone user experience, including synchronizing email, calendars and contacts, scheduling meetings, and notifying applications of changes in signal strength and battery power.

We have a responsibility to our customers, partners, and shareholders to safeguard the billions of dollars we invest each year in bringing innovative software products and services to market. Motorola needs to stop its infringement of our patented inventions in its Android smartphones.”