Microsoft has sued the United States Customs and Border Patrol for failing to enforce an import restriction on Motorola Mobility phones that the International Trade Commission ruled were infringing on one of Microsoft’s patents.
The patent in question is number 6370566, entitled “Generating meeting requests and group scheduling from a mobile device.” Microsoft claims that the calendar functionality in Motorola’s Android phones infringes on that patent.
The company is claiming that the Customs and Border Patrol continues to allow Motorola Mobility, which is now owned by Google, to import devices into the United States that continue to use the same feature that the ITC ruled was infringing on Microsoft’s patent. Microsoft says the Customs decision followed secret meetings with Motorola representatives.
“Customs has a clear responsibility to carry out ITC decisions, which are reached after a full trial and rigorous legal review. Here Customs repeatedly ignored its obligation and did so based on secret discussions,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel David Howard said in a statement.
The import restriction was put in place in 2012, and has not been enforced, according to the complaint. Microsoft says that turning to the courts is, in its view, the only way to get CBP to enforce the exclusion order.
The only conclusion that can reasonably be drawn from CBP’s pattern of conduct is that CBP will not enforce the Commission’s exclusion order absent a court order compelling it to do so. CBP has repeatedly allowed Motorola to evade that order based on secret presentations that CBP has refused to share with Microsoft. Microsoft has repeatedly explained that CBP’s stated reasons for not enforcing the exclusion order are legally mistaken, only to confront new theories and claims that CBP has adopted (apparently after further secret discussions) to justify its continuing refusal to enforce the exclusion order. Microsoft’s efforts to resolve this impasse through means other than litigation have come to naught. With its recent, and demonstrably flawed, June 24 refusal to bar importation of infringing Motorola devices, CBP has left Microsoft no choice but to bring this action.
The restriction is slated to remain in place until the expiration of the patent in 2018.
UPDATE (7:41 PM): Google has issued a statement regarding the suit that reads: “U.S. Customs appropriately rejected Microsoft’s effort to broaden its patent claims to block Americans from using a wide range of legitimate calendar functions, like scheduling meetings, on their mobile phones. We’re confident that the court will agree.”
Blair Hanley Frank is a technology journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has also worked for Macworld, PCWorld and TechHive. He can be found on Twitter @belril.