A judge has dismissed claims and counterclaims by Apple and Motorola Mobility over patent infringement, canceling their jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois just days before it was scheduled to begin.
In a preliminary opinion on the lawsuits, Judge Richard Posner said both sides in the patent dispute over smartphone and tablet technology should have their claims dismissed with prejudice because neither party had established a right to relief. The finding would prevent the two sides from bringing a similar suit in the future.
Posner said, however, that he was delaying entry of final judgment until he had prepared a full opinion.
After disallowing two of Apple's patent claims on May 22, Posner tentatively concluded that Apple's admissible evidence of damages with respect to the remaining patents under dispute did not "create a genuine issue of material fact" that would enable Apple's remaining claims to withstand Motorola Mobility's motion for summary judgment.
"I likewise tentatively conclude that the admissible evidence of damages with respect to the alleged infringement by Apple of Motorola's 898 patent also fails to create a genuine issue of material fact," Posner wrote in the preliminary order issued Thursday.
Google's Long-Term Dilemma
Posner said the imposition of injunctive relief would impose disproportionate costs on the alleged patent infringer as well as distribute disproportionate benefits to the patent holder. Such a decision, he wrote, would also "be contrary to the public interest."
"But all this requires a fuller explanation, which I will endeavor to provide in my opinion," Posner said. "I expect to issue it within a week."
Google cleared all regulatory hurdles for closing its acquisition of Motorola Mobility last month under a $12.5 billion offer tendered last year. With respect to Google's huge investment in Motorola and its ambitions to stop Apple's intellectual-property assertions against Android, Posner's decision is "a setback," said FOSS Patents blogger Florian Mueller.
Though it is in Motorola's interest to avoid the four patent claims Apple was asserting in Chicago, "in the greater scheme of things, it also means that Google won't be able to win any ruling in the U.S. against Apple before 2014 other than an International Trade Commission decision -- which is increasingly unlikely to be the import ban it requested," Mueller wrote Thursday.
An Influential Opinion
Posner normally serves as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. Industry observers have interpreted his temporary reassignment to specifically adjudicate the Apple vs. Motorola dispute before the Illinois district court as a sign that the U.S. judicial system wanted the court's ruling to serve as a benchmark for future patent disputes.
Though Apple and Google have the option of appealing the final opinion, Posner's ruling is likely to carry considerable weight. Among other things, Posner is the author of 40 books on jurisprudence, economics and other topics as well as a professor at the University of Chicago. And according to The Journal of Legal Studies, Posner, a former president of the Harvard Law Review, is also most cited legal scholar of the 20th century.
Earlier this week, Posner obliquely referred to the tsunami of electronic industry patent lawsuits swamping U.S. courts in a blog he shares with Gary Becker, a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago. Noting that the institutional structure of the United States is under stress, Posner cited the nation's "dysfunctional patent system" as one of the major issues that "needs a lot of work to achieve proper capitalist goals."