On Wednesday, a German court awarded Apple a permanent injunction against Motorola Mobility. This is the first time Apple wins a legal battle against Motorola, which was found to infringe on the iPhone’s slide-to-unlock feature. Apple’s victory may signal a change of tides in its ongoing legal war against Motorola (and Android in general).
Motorola had previously won two legal decisions against Apple in Germany, but last week, a third case was dismissed. Now, Apple seems to have gained the upper hand, and Motorola’s troubles don’t seem to end here. According to ‘patent expert’ Florian Mueller, a new patent-infringement case is on the roll against Moto, and this time, it’s Microsoft that cries foul.
Slide to Unlock Pandora’s Box
The German judge decided that Motorola smartphones infringe on Apple’s patent for “unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image”. Some say that’s a trivial feature, but in the tech world, these kind of patents are used as high-powered weapons to blow devastating hits to adversaries.
What does Motorola risk now? Not much, according to the company’s PR. Motorola can replace the slide-to-unlock feature with another mechanism. Moto will likely adapt the swipe-from-circle unlocking mechanism it uses on the Xooms, which are the ones featured in Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, and the Android 3.0x Honeycomb OS. But, as Mueller notes, the circle unlocking feature is less intuitive than Apple’s design, especially on smaller smartphones screens.
Apple’s win is not a crippling blow for Motorola, but we should look at the big picture here. Motorola Mobility is close to sealing the deal with Google, which will massively increase its importance in the tech landscape. Any action against Motorola can now be considered an action against Google and Android. In addition, Apple now has big chances to enforce their slide-to-unlock patent against Samsung and other manufacturers.
Microsoft Pushes On Against Android
Microsoft already makes a lot of cash from Android. So much so, in fact, that they make more off of Android than they do their own mobile operating system. Conservative estimates put it between $7.50 to $12.50 per device sold. And, last month, Redmond announced that they have licensing agreements that cover 70% of the Android devices sold in the U.S. You do the math. For perspective, the Chinese at ZTE revealed that they pay $20-$30 per each Windows Phone 7 device they sell.
To bolster WP7 (while making a decent buck in the process), Microsoft will push on against the few Android device makers that they didn’t manage to “convince” to sign licensing deals, including Barnes & Noble and Motorola.
No matter the outcome of the various ongoing legal battles, Android is definitely under threat. The open nature of the platform itself may be at stake. We just hope that, sooner rather than later, the patent madness will give way to real competition.