October 31, 2010 2:25 am

Apple sues Motorola amid litigation scrum

Apple has counter-sued Motorola, alleging the mobile phone maker violated patents including those that protect the iPhone’s interpretation of multiple finger-touches for making an image larger or smaller.

The suit claims infringement of six patents and was filed in a US federal court in Wisconsin less than a month after Motorola sued Apple, arguing that the iPhone and other products violated Motorola patents in core areas including mobile communications, software management and location-based services.

The suit filed on Friday adds to a scrum of litigation that has also drawn in the top names in technology. Parties to one or more smartphone patent cases which have been filed include Google, which makes the Android operating software that is seen as the greatest threat to the iPhone; Oracle, which now controls the Java software used in most phones; Microsoft; top smartphone maker Nokia; and other handset manufacturers such as HTC.

Unlike most areas of intellectual-property skirmishing, the mobile phone industry has a body that administers a pool of patents, to which all parties contribute, and assigns licensing fees.

But as the stakes have risen, and some of the most desirable technology has come to resemble that in traditional computing more than phones, the coalition approach has fractured. The balance has been upset in particular by Apple, which has many fewer patents in phones than its rivals but can lay claim to some of the biggest advances.

Smartphone patent wars

Patent Wars

Patent wars are raging in the smartphone industry. This interactive graphic shows the technology companies involved in patent lawsuits and licensing agreements.

Motorola on Saturday said it had not reviewed Apple’s filing in detail. But it pointed out that it had previously sued Apple and also made a complaint to the US International Trade Commission, another popular venue for such disputes.

“Motorola has a leading intellectual property portfolio, one of the strongest in the industry, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves in this matter”, said company spokeswoman Jennifer Erickson. “We are confident in our position and will pursue our litigation to halt Apple’s continued infringement”.

Without a grand compromise, the thicket of cases could drag on for years and might slow what has been a rapid pace of advancement.

Apple faces a lawsuit from Nokia over its iPhone technology and has taken legal action of its own against the Finnish cellphone maker.

Apple is also part of a wider legal challenge to Google’s Android smartphone operating system, having filed a lawsuit against handset maker HTC over its use of the software. That echoes Microsoft’s action against Motorola over its use of Android software and Oracle’s action against Google over the alleged use of its Java technology in Android.

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