The country's top trade agency handed Apple a mixed ruling today in its dispute with Google-owned Motorola Mobility over patents covering 3G wireless technology.
The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that Apple did not violate three Motorola patents, including one that a judge had found the company to be infringing. But the agency sent a fourth patent -- which the judge had initially said had not been infringed -- back to the judge to reconsider.
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Thomas Pender will have to re-examine the issues with regard to the so-called "'862 patent" related to a sensor that determines how close a mobile communications device is to a user's head. "The Commission remands the investigation to the ALJ to consider the issues of infringement, validity, and the domestic industry requirement for the '862 patent," the ITC order says. (PDF)
The reconsideration by the judge could take a year or more and the second initial determination would be subject to review by the ITC, according to the Foss Patents blog.
With regard to a patent known as the "'697 patent," which Pender had previously said Apple infringed, the ITC found that the company did not directly violate the patent or induce others to infringe it as claimed.
Apple and Google representatives did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the ITC ruling.
A Motorola representative released this statement: "Motorola was one of the earliest mobile phone innovators, and much of Apple's success builds on our foundational work. We're considering our options as we continue to push for patent peace."
Motorola filed a complaint against Apple with the ITC in October 2010 and then sued Apple in federal court. Apple has filed counterclaims in the ITC proceeding and countersuits.
The patent battles seem to be heating up. Last week, Motorola Mobility filed a new patent infringement lawsuit against Apple and wants to block Apple from importing iPads, iPhones, and other foreign-made products. The suit was seen as a move to force Apple into settling the patent disputes, according to Foss Patents.
Earlier today, a jury found that Samsung infringed on Apple patents and awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages.