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Microsoft sues US Customs for failed Google phone ban

Microsoft sues US Customs for failed Google phone ban

Monitoring Report

WASHINGTON: Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) accused US Customs officials of refusing to follow a trade agency’s order to block imports of phones made by Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Motorola Mobility unit in a lawsuit that seeks to alter how such cases are handled.

The US International Trade Commission in Washington issued the import ban in May 2012 after deciding that Motorola Mobility devices infringed a Microsoft patent for a way mobile phones synchronize calendar events with other computers. Microsoft’s lawsuit, filed in Washington, says that order isn’t being enforced.

US Customs and Border Protection, after having secret meetings with Google, continued to let the Motorola Mobility mobile phones enter the country even though Google has done nothing to remove the feature at the heart of the ITC case, Microsoft said in the complaint. The case illustrates what Lexmark International Inc. (LXK) and Lutron Electronics Co. in May called an “increasingly ineffective and unpredictable enforcement” of import bans imposed by the trade agency.

“Customs has a clear responsibility to carry out ITC decisions, which are reached after a full trial and rigorous legal review,” Microsoft Deputy General Counsel David Howard said in a statement. “Here Customs repeatedly ignored its obligation and did so based on secret discussions.”

Motorola Mobility convinced the agency that the order didn’t apply to syncing through Google rather than Microsoft servers, and to give it a grace period to allow changes to take effect. Both of those requests had previously been rejected by the ITC, according to Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft.

“US 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,” Matt Kallman, a Google spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re confident that the court will agree.”

Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for Customs, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The complaint filed yesterday in Washington also named Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees the Customs agency. She announced yesterday she was stepping down to head the University of California system.

The ITC order is in effect until Microsoft’s patent expires in April 2018. An appeal in the case is scheduled to be heard Aug. 6 in Washington.