A U.S. federal judge Friday ruled that Apple cannot seek an injunction against Motorola Mobility in its smartphone patents lawsuit, tossing out the case "with prejudice," meaning that neither side can refile, although the ruling could be appealed.
Judge Richard Posner of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois had previously ruled that testimony of various expert witnesses was inadmissable and earlier this month tentatively concluded that the case would have to be dismissed. He canceled the trial date, but agreed to a request from Apple for a hearing where both sides could make their case for damages claims. His 38-page ruling issued Friday evening made it clear that he wasn't moved by the arguments he heard.
"It would be ridiculous to dismiss a suit for failure to prove damages and allow the plaintiff to refile the suit so that he could have a second chance to prove damages," Posner wrote, adding that he was therefore dismissing the suit with prejudice.
Posner, who is often described as "outspoken," is an appellate court judge designated to hear the claim in the U.S. District Court, which is based in Chicago. He had previously whittled down Apple's four patent infringement claims to one and during the course of hearing the case had described it as "silly." The language of Friday's ruling indicates that his opinion of the lawsuit's claims did not change over time, though he did not seem any more impressed with Motorola's arguments than he was with Apple's.
Sharp Words for Apple
Regarding Motorola's attempt to obtain an injunction against Apple related to patents that were licensed under FRAND (fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory) terms, he wrote: "By committing to license its patents on FRAND terms, Motorola committed to license the [patent] to anyone willing to pay a FRAND royalty and thus implicitly acknowledged that a royalty is adequate compensation for a license to use that patent. How could it do otherwise? How could it be permitted to enjoin Apple from using an invention that it contends Apple must use if it wants to make a cell phone with UMTS telecommunications capability -- without which it would not be a cell phone."
As for Apple's legal maneuvering he wrote: "A patentee cannot base a claim to an injunction on a self-inflicted wound, such as sponsoring a damages expert who prepares a demonstrably inadequate report." He went on to note that "in its latest written and oral submissions Apple attempts what I told its legal team at a pretrial conference I would not let it do in the liability trials then envisaged: turn the case into an Apple versus Motorola popularity contest. Apple wanted me to allow into evidence media reports attesting to what a terrific product the iPhone is."
Calling this "Apple's 'feel good' theory," Posner wrote that approach did nothing to prove that the patent infringement it claimed did anything to decrease its sales or market share, or that it diminished "consumer goodwill toward Apple products."
"Apple is claiming that Motorola's phones as a whole ripped off the iPhone as a whole. But Motorola's desire to sell products that compete with the iPhone is a separate harm -- and a perfectly legal one -- from any harm caused by patent infringement," he wrote.
He further found that "Apple's soothing reassurance that a tailored injunction would avert significant hardship to Motorola" was not persuasive. "The notion that these minor-seeming infringements have cost Apple market share and consumer goodwill is implausible, has virtually no support in the record, and so fails to indicate that the benefits to Apple from an injunction would exceed the costs to Motorola," he wrote.
Representatives of Apple and Motorola could not be reached for comment Saturday, but Motorola reportedly is "pleased" with the ruling, as would be expected.
Apple could appeal Posner's ruling. Meanwhile, the two companies will continue to go at each other legally, with a case pending before the International Trade Commission and lawsuits ongoing in a number of other countries.