Microsoft says Motorola's Android phones infringe its mapping patent

Microsoft is targeting Google Maps on Motorola Mobility phones because it wants the company to pay patent license fees for using Android

Microsoft is suing Motorola Mobility in Germany over a mapping patent that Microsoft alleges covers the Google Maps app that ships on Motorola phones. The two parties meet each other in court on Thursday, the regional court of Munich said.

According to Microsoft, some products sold by Google-owned Motorola Mobility infringe on a patent that describes a method of obtaining the map from one database, resource information such as Starbucks locations from a second database, and overlaying the two sets of data. A technique like this is used in Google Maps, which is installed on Motorola's Android devices.

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Microsoft sued Motorola Mobility and its German subsidiary. The lawsuit in the regional court of Munich will start on Thursday with two hearings, a spokeswoman for the court said in an email.

"It became necessary to add Google to this particular case because Motorola maintains that it lacks sufficient information about actions occurring on Google's servers," according to the statement.

This means that a possible verdict in favor of Microsoft could affect the entire Google Maps platform in Germany, according to patent-issues blogger and analyst Florian Mueller, who attended the hearing in Munich and reported about it on his blog. If Microsoft wins the lawsuit, the court would simply order Google not to infringe the claim, he said in an email. Mueller has been tapped as a consultant for tech companies including Oracle and Microsoft.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The mapping patent lawsuit was filed around the same time as Microsoft filed a number of other Android-related patent lawsuits against Motorola in Germany. It filed the suits because it wants Motorola to pay a licensing fee for Android. Microsoft has a licensing agreement with HTC, Samsung and most of the Android market that covers licenses to all Microsoft's Android-related patents. Motorola does not have a license and continues to infringe, according to Microsoft.

"We continue to hope Motorola will join the vast majority of Android device makers by licensing Microsoft's patented inventions," Microsoft said.

Microsoft already won three sales bans on Motorola devices in Germany for infringing a FAT file system patent, an SMS patent, and a patent describing a method for handling communication between a keyboard and an application, while a fourth was denied in Mannheim last week.

One of the verdicts included a sales ban on the Motorola Atrix, the Droid Razr and the Droid Razr Maxx phones.

Motorola's device offerings in the German market are greatly reduced since the injunctions granted to Microsoft, and since a preliminary ban on sales of the Motorola Milestone XT720, the Motorola DEFY, the Motorola Atrix and Motorola XOOM granted to Apple in September.

At the moment, Motorola only offers two Android smartphones on its German website: the Razr i and the Razr HD. The only other phone listed on the site is the Gleam, a "classic clamshell phone", that uses a proprietary operating system. Visitors who click on the "tablet" tab are directed to a page that should list Motorola Android tablets, but right now the page just states "No results" in German.

Motorola did not respond to a request for comment and a Google spokesman declined to comment.

"At the moment, Europe isn't a big priority for Motorola," said analyst Geoff Blaber of CSS Insight, who added that Motorola has said that that it would focus on fewer mobile devices.

"Motorola has been focusing on North America, Latin America and China," said Blaber.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com.

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