Apple forced to disable iPhone push email in Germany
(Guardian Web Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The patent wars are hotting up – and Motorola Mobility (MMI), the mobile device and set-top box company being acquired by Google, has struck a notable blow against Apple.
The iPhone and iPad maker said on Friday that it has disabled the push email function for its mobile devices in Germany in an ongoing patent dispute with MMI.
The disabling of the push service, which automatically sends messages from the receiving email server to the devices as soon as they're received, rather than waiting to be polled by the device, will affect customers using Apple's MobileMe and iCloud email.
Apple said those customers can still receive email using other settings.
The move follows a ruling by a Mannheim court earlier this month that Apple had infringed upon a Motorola patent on push email technology.
Apple says it believes its own patent is valid and is appealing the decision.
Motorola asserts that its patent – which the independent patents blogger Florian Müller said dates back to the days of the pager – covers Apple's implementation of "push" systems.
It is the second time Apple has been forced by a court ruling in favour of Motorola to alter its offerings in Germany. Earlier in February it was obliged to remove some items from its online store in Germany when it lost a court case related to its use of 3G and UMTS systems, which are covered by MMI-owned patents.
But the latter move sparked a complaint by Apple to the European Commission that the company was abusing "standards-essential" patents, which are those deemed to have been necessary to make devices compliant with standards such as Wi-Fi and mobile phone connectivity.
Such patents are meant to be licensed on "FRAND" – fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory – terms, so that they are available to any company willing to license them.
Denying the use of FRAND patents could attract antitrust investigation from the European Commission – as is already happening with Samsung over some of its countersuits against Apple. If found guilty of abuse, the company could be charged up to 10% of its revenues. If MMI is owned by Google then the parent company might be liable.
Microsoft has also filed a similar complaint against MMI with the European Commission over its enforcement of what are claimed to be "standards-essential" patents.
The withdrawal of the push email service – for which the patent does not fall under FRAND licensing – comes against a backdrop of frenzied litigation between many of the biggest names in technology as they try to assert their intellectual property and to hinder rivals in the smartphone and tablet market.
Apple is currently suing Android handset makers including MMI, Samsung and HTC in various courts around the world, while a number of countersuits by the same companies are trying to hit back. Microsoft, meanwhile, has succeeded in getting many Android makers to pay it royalties on patents that it says cover Android.
Apple last week won a case against MMI in Germany over its patented "slide to unlock" feature, arguing that MMI's version on its Android phones too closely matched its version, which shows "guide rails" for the unlock mechanism.
Motorola said the case would not affect existing users and that it had "new designs" in place which would not infringe the patent, although it did not respond to enquiries about how the new design differed.
(c) 2012 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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