ITC invalidates Motorola proximity sensor patent in suit against Apple

With all of the Samsung vs. Apple conflict in the courts, one could be forgiven for losing track of the fact that Apple has a lingering patent dispute with Google's Motorola Mobility subsidiary as well. Bloomberg is reporting that the US International Trade Commission (ITC) recently upheld a previous court's judgement which held that a Motorola patent asserted against Apple was invalid.

The patent in question is US Patent No. 6,246,862 and encompasses functionality whereby a mobile device ignores unintended touches when in close proximity to a user's face. This is the capability that allows touchscreen phones to avoid "cheekdialing" during a call.

The pertinent patent claim reads:

1. A portable communication device comprising:

a processing section to control operation of the portable communication device in response to an input signal;

a user interface comprising a touch sensitive input device coupled to the processing section, the touch sensitive input device actuatable to generate the input signal; and

a sensor coupled to the user interface, the sensor to disable communication of the input signal to the processing section when the portable communication device is positioned in close proximity to a user, thereby, preventing inadvertent actuation of the touch sensitive input device.

The ITC agreed with Apple's argument that the patent claim was obvious. Motorola argued, to no avail, that the patented technology was not obvious back when it was filed in 1999 due to the scarcity of touchscreen mobile devices at the time.

It's worth noting that the aforementioned patent is the last one remaining from Motorola's initial lawsuit against Apple, filed in 2010, where it asserted a grand total of 18 patents against a slew of Apple products.

Google, which acquired Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion back in 2011, told Bloomberg that the company was "evaluating our options." Apple, as is typically the case, had no comment.

The ITC's ruling can be read in its entirety over here. More analysis of the court's decision is over at FOSS Patents.