Apple, Motorola all Tied Up

Apple vs. MotorolaApple won a round in German court on Monday in its long running patent battle with Motorola. In this truly twisted turn of events, Apple won by accepting a licensing offer from Motorola. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Experts in the case now see an advantage for Apple, as Motorola may be forced to accept a license from Apple on similar, also undisclosed terms.

What? That’s right, folks. Both companies will, eventually, be forced to license its patents to the other. No winner, no loser.

Keep in mind that the fundamental right of a patent holder is to deny others the right to make or use the covered invention. This ruling seems to guarantee that neither company can successfully enforce that right. The case concerned a “standard essential” patent. As published reports point out, such patents are required to comply with an industry standard, and companies must license to competitors because they can’t produce devices under the standard without the technology.

What this means is that “industry standards” count. Once a technology is accepted as a standard – and therefore baked into the fabric of business – it can’t be suddenly pulled away even by that technologies’ owner. Patents that cover other aspects of a product can, of course, still be enforced.

This should put one of the great fears of the ‘free software’ folks crowd to rest. The patent system and the courts worked to achieve the correct balance between the public good the the private right. Industry continues to operate at speed. Innovation continues at pace. Even in the face of valid and enforceable patents, the operating world of the Internet did not come to a screeching halt.

At least in Germany. Hopefully the rest of us will catch on soon.

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