WASHINGTON – Apples bid to limit Googles use of certain patents as a tool to block imports of the iPhone and iPad may be getting traction at a U.S. trade agency, possibly altering the global battle over smartphones.
The International Trade Commission last week said it would review whether Apple, which gets about 75 percent of its revenue from the iPhone, iPad and related products, infringed four patents held by Googles Motorola Mobility unit. A trade judge in April said Apple infringed one of the patents.
The commission also asked lawyers in the case, and the public, for comments on how to proceed when infringed patents cover aspects of technology that are adopted by an entire industry so electronic devices work across platforms.
Theres some sort of movement to reduce competition through litigation, said Will Stofega, a program manager at researcher IDC in Framingham, Mass. They really want to bring this whole issue to a head. Patent litigation is part of the ordinary due course of business, but this has gone beyond that.
The Federal Trade Commission, a half-dozen members of Congress and companies including Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. have in recent weeks questioned whether companies that helped develop standards should be able to get orders from the ITC to block competitors use of the technology.
The ITC will review aspects of all four Motorola Mobility patents in the case against Apple. Of the 13 questions it posed to lawyers last week, eight are related to handling standard-essential patents.
Should it side with Motorola Mobility, the agency has the power to order U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop iPhones and iPad computers made in Asia from entering the United States.
The iPhone generated $22.7 billion in sales in the quarter ended March 31 for Apple, or 58 percent of the companys total revenue. It was the best-selling smartphone in the U.S., with 29 percent of the market.
A ruling for Apple on the smartphone issue would limit the ammunition that Motorola Mobility has hurled at its rivals. Apple and Microsoft have said the patents they asserted at the ITC against Motorola Mobility are for features, not industry standards.