Apple files for stays in two Motorola suits until Google acquisition wraps up

by Phil Hornshaw

Apple is embroiled in lots of patent lawsuits right now with various smartphone makers that use Google’s Android platform, but in at least two cases, Apple thinks it ought to win by default.

Those cases involve Motorola Mobility – one that Apple filed against Motorola, and one that Motorola filed against Apple. In both cases, Apple has filed for a stay to put the lawsuits on hold, arguing that by allowing itself to be bought by Google to the tune of $12.5 billion, Motorola has given up its patent rights to Google. Since Motorola no longer has the rights to those patents, it can’t fight a patent lawsuit against Apple.

That’s according to patent activist Florian Mueller and his blog, FOSS Patents, which runs down the ins and outs of the filings. Apple argues that because Motorola has surrendered its patent rights to Google, it lacks the legal standing to sue Apple over patents, or negotiate settlements in any of the pending cases between the two companies. Lawyers for Apple also argue that the company shouldn’t have to argue either case and risk losing it, only for the ruling to be turned over on appeal on the issue of Motorola’s legal standing (its right to sue) in the case.

Apple also argues that in the 21 counts one of the lawsuits deals with, it’s unlikely Apple will lose in every count. But if the ruling is turned over later because of standing, the company has gained nothing by the rulings. Whatever precedents would be set by the ruling in Apple’s favor could get knocked out by a technicality, essentially.

Google announced the acquisition of Motorola about a month ago, a move the search engine giant has said was primarily about obtaining Motorola’s portfolio of more than 21,000 worldwide patents, both granted and pending. The patent buy was ammunition as well as armor, giving Google the ability to help fight off other tech companies – namely Apple – in lawsuits exactly like the ones Motorola and Apple are crossing swords in. Patent disputes over smartphones, tablets, operating systems and other features keep popping up, and Google wanted a big trove of patents (like Microsoft and Apple have) to use to wage war in the courtroom.

It’s ironic that the very acquisition to fight these legal battles could stall this one for Motorola and Google, and possibly lead to an Apple victory.

The merger between Google and Motorola is still pending review by regulators, but Google expects it to be done this year or in early 2012, according to Ars Technica. Meanwhile, Apple continues to be involved in cases around the world in which it hopes to pin down Android device makers and weaken Android’s base, the most recent being a ruling against Samsung and its Galaxy Tab 10.1, which was banned from sale in Germany for infringing on Apple’s iPad patents.

We’ll have to wait and see what the next steps are in the Motorola cases, and what actions Google might be able to take against Apple directly once it owns Motorola.