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Originally published April 11, 2012 at 7:41 PM | Page modified April 11, 2012 at 10:13 PM

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Judge sides with Microsoft in patent case with Motorola

The case is one of several patent battles being fought between the two companies in courtrooms from Seattle to Washington, D.C., to Mannheim, Germany.

Seattle Times technology reporter

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A federal judge in Seattle has granted Microsoft's request to prevent Motorola from enforcing a possible upcoming injunction that could stop Microsoft from selling Windows and Xbox in Germany.

Granting Microsoft a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, Judge James Robart of the U.S. District Court in Western Washington made the decision Wednesday afternoon in a patent case Microsoft filed against Motorola.

The case is one of several patent battles being fought between the two companies in courtrooms from Seattle to Washington, D.C., to Mannheim, Germany.

A German court is expected to rule next week on whether Microsoft infringed on Motorola's patents. If Microsoft were to lose that case, Motorola could have sought an injunction barring Microsoft from selling two of its most important products in that country.

But Robart's decision Wednesday means that Motorola will not have that option — at least for now.

In leading up to his decision, Robart talked about weighing several factors, including potential harm, should he not issue a temporary restraining order. Of the two companies, Microsoft would face stronger potential irreparable harm, he said, including not being able to sell its products in Germany and facing negotiating licensing fees "under threat" of a pending injunction.

Robart also emphasized that his ruling affects Motorola's actions, not those of the German court.

Motorola had argued that Microsoft, in asking for the temporary restraining order, was asking the court to "inject itself into foreign litigation proceedings in an entirely unwarranted manner."

In addition, Robart set a $100 million bond from which Microsoft would have to pay Motorola if a court were to determine later that Motorola should have been allowed to get its injunction in Germany.

Following Robart's ruling, Microsoft said in a statement: "Motorola promised to make its patents available to Microsoft and other companies on fair and reasonable terms. Today's ruling means Motorola can't prevent Microsoft from selling products until the court decides whether Motorola has lived up to its promise."

Motorola also issued a statement: "Our focus from the outset has been to receive fair value for our intellectual property based on Microsoft's use of (Motorola's) patented technology."

All of this stems from a case Microsoft filed in November 2010 in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

That lawsuit claimed Motorola had breached an agreement to provide, at reasonable rates, use of its patented technologies that have become standard in online video viewing and wireless usage.

The temporary restraining order Robart issued Wednesday will remain in effect at least through May 7, when a hearing is scheduled in the case, and possibly until this fall, when Robart is expected to make his ruling.

Typically, companies that own patents involving technologies that have become standard use in the industry — so-called "standard-essential patents" — agree, as part of joining international standards groups, to license them under fair and reasonable terms.

Microsoft contended that Motorola, which is being acquired by Microsoft rival Google, demanded unreasonable royalties for its standard-essential patents used in Windows and Xbox.

Motorola was asking for licensing fees of 2.25 percent of the sale price of Windows PCs and Xbox consoles.

That would have amounted to about $4 billion annually, according to Microsoft.

Motorola, in turn, filed a lawsuit in Mannheim in July 2011, claiming that Microsoft violated some of Motorola's patents. A German judge is expected to rule on that issue April 17.

Earlier this month, faced with the risk of losing that case and a possible injunction that could have followed, Microsoft pulled its European distribution center out Germany. The company plans to set up its new European distribution center in the Netherlands.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @janettu.

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