Microsoft Sues U.S. Customs for Not Enforcing Import Ban on Motorola Smart Phones

The ongoing patent battle between Microsoft and Motorola Mobility took another turn on Friday, July 12, 2013, as Microsoft filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Customs in the U.S. District Court, of Columbia for failing to follow an order to ban the import of Motorola smartphones in the United States.  Microsoft seeks a court order compelling U.S. Customs to halt importation of the infringing Motorola smartphones.

In May 2012, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) found that Google’s Motorola Mobility had infringed a Microsoft patent covering a way mobile phones synchronize calendar events with other computers.  The ITC imposed an import ban on the infringing Motorola smartphones to last through April 2018, when Microsoft’s patent expires.  The software giant alleges that U.S. Customs allowed continued importation of the Motorola smartphones after meeting in secret with Google this past April, even though Google has not removed the feature that led to the ITC order.  Google convinced U.S. Customs that the order didn’t apply to synching through Google rather than Microsoft servers, and also to give it a grace period to allow changes to take effect.  The ITC had previously rejected both of these requests, and Microsoft believes U.S. Customs is thus ignoring its obligation to follow through on ITC decisions.  An appeal of the ITC’s order is scheduled to be heard August 6, 2013.

The ITC, tasked with protecting U.S. markets from patent infringement, has become an important forum for disputes between smartphone manufacturers.  After the ITC issues import bans, both patent owners and importers often seek to influence U.S. Customs decisions on enforcement of the import bans.  This contributes to what has been described as “increasingly ineffective and unpredictable enforcement” of import bans imposed by the ITC.  Critics of U.S. Customs also argue that the agency, more concerned with protecting the U.S. border from terrorists and unauthorized immigrants than with intellectual property issues, is ill-equipped to analyze the increasingly complex electronics involved in patent disputes.