Ban on iOS push mail stays but its patent likely invalid, German court says

Apple can file request with the court to lift the ban

A patent that Motorola Mobility used to force Apple to turn off its iCloud push mail service in Germany is likely to be invalid, the Higher Regional Court in Karlsruhe said on Wednesday -- but the ban will not be lifted, a court spokeswoman said.

Apple was ordered to stop offering push mail services in Germany in February last year after the District Court in Mannheim found that Apple infringed on a Motorola patent entitled "Multiple Pager Status Synchronization System and Method," also known as the push notification patent.

Apple took the case to Mannheim's appellate court in Karlsruhe, where the court decided to postpone its decision until the German Federal Patent Court has ruled on the patent's validity, Christiane Oehler, spokeswoman for the Karlsruhe appeals court said.

Similar doubts were raised about the same patent by the Mannheim court last Friday in a case between Motorola and Microsoft. That court too decided to wait for the outcome of the pending validity procedure because the patent was likely to be invalid. Neither of the German courts however disclosed why it thought the patent was invalid.

The push notification patent had already been ruled invalid by a U.K. court in December in a lawsuit between Motorola and Microsoft because it lacks novelty and is obvious, the court said at the time. While German and U.K. courts are independent, it is not unusual for them to take note of each other's rulings over the same matter.

While two German courts now doubt the validity of the patent, the ban on iOS push mail services via iCloud and its predecessor MobileMe won't be lifted, Oehler said. "The current decision to suspend the ruling does not change anything about the ban, at least not automatically," she said.

Apple already tried to lift the ban during the pending appeal procedure but that request was denied by the Karlsruhe court in March last year, Oehler said. Apple hasn't tried to lift the ban since then, but the company can always file a new request with the Karlsruhe court in an attempt to lift it, she added.

Whether Apple will attempt to do that remains unclear. "We aren't commenting on today's announcement," Apple spokesman Alan Hely said in an email. Motorola did not respond to a request for comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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