Court questions Google on patent values in Microsoft case

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court appeared skeptical on Wednesday toward Google Inc’s bid to charge Microsoft Corp a high royalty rate to use some of the Internet search provider’s Motorola Mobility patents.

Microsoft sued Motorola in 2010, alleging Motorola breached its commitment to license some of its industry standard patents on fair terms. After a 2012 trial, a Seattle federal judge found that the appropriate rate for Motorola to license certain wireless and video technology used in the Xbox game console was only a fraction of what Motorola had asked for.

Google sold the Motorola handset business to Lenovo last year, but kept its patents.

The value of Google’s patents can affect how it negotiates royalty rates with other tech companies, and firms including Apple Inc and Intel Corp filed court papers supporting Microsoft.

After the 2012 trial before U.S. District Judge James Robart, the judge said the appropriate royalty rate was about $1.8 million (1.21 million pounds), slightly above Microsoft’s estimate, but well below Motorola’s demand for as much as $4 billion a year.

Google asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to rule that the patent rate should have been determined by a jury, not the judge. However, all three members of the 9th Circuit panel suggested that Google’s attorneys had not sought a jury trial on that issue at the time.

“It seems pretty clear…that both parties anticipated a bench trial,” Chief Judge Sidney Thomas said.

After Robart set the patent rate, a jury in 2013 awarded Microsoft about $14.5 million in damages for breach of contract in a subsequent trial. Google has asked that the 9th Circuit reverse that award as well.

The 9th Circuit is expected to rule sometime in the coming months.

The case in the 9th Circuit is Microsoft Corporation vs. Motorola Mobility Inc. et al, 14-35393.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Christian Plumb)

Court questions Google on patent values in Microsoft case