Patent disputes between Apple-backed Rockstar and Google's Android licensees will be first decided in a California court rather than in a Texas court seen to be more favorable to patent holders.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled Thursday that the Texas actions should be stayed because a suit filed by Google in California may be enough to decide on the patent infringement charges made by Rockstar.
The infringement contentions were nearly identical against all Android phone makers that rely almost exclusively on the underlying functionalities in the base Android source code provided by Google, the court said in its order.
Rockstar filed the suits in Texas in October against Samsung, HTC and other companies. Backed by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry, Ericsson and Sony, Rockstar acquired Nortel Networks' patents for US$4.5 billion after outbidding Google in 2011.
In the suits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall division, Rockstar accused the Google partners of infringing some or all of seven patents. Rockstar later amended its complaint against Samsung to include Google and charged the Internet giant with infringing three of its patents.
Google countered with a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California asking for a ruling that it does not directly or indirectly infringe the seven patents of Rockstar. The Internet company said the suits in Texas threatened its business and relationships with its customers and partners and its sales of Nexus-branded Android devices.
In the Federal Circuit, Google and partners were appealing an order by the Texas court, which rejected a request that the cases in Texas be transferred to California or proceedings in the Texas court be stayed until the California court has decided.
The appeals court described the decision by the Texas court to refuse to stay its proceedings as "a clear abuse of discretion." It also agreed with the California court's observation that Google's Android products, the target of the infringement action, were designed and created in California and the witnesses who can testify to the design and development of the Android platform's features reside near Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California. Rockstar did not name any witnesses in Texas essential to the suit, it added.