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Xbox U.S. Ban Delayed, Judge to Reconsider Case

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First Posted: Jul 01, 2012 11:35 AM EDT
Marc Whitten, the head of Xbox Live, demonstrates the new XBox feature XBox SmartGlass, using a wireless tablet controller at the Microsoft XBox news briefing during the E3 game expo in Los Angeles, California June 4, 2012.

Marc Whitten, the head of Xbox Live, demonstrates the new XBox feature XBox SmartGlass, using a wireless tablet controller at the Microsoft XBox news briefing during the E3 game expo in Los Angeles, California June 4, 2012. Credit:Reuters

Good news for Xbox fans: Microsoft's gadgets will not be banned from the United States, at least for now. A U.S. trade panel has decided to put off a final ruling on a complaint Google's Motorola Mobility unit filed against Microsoft, accusing the software maker of infringing its patents to make the popular Xbox, Reuters reported.

Back in April, a U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) judge ruled that Microsoft infringed four patents owned by Google's recently-acquired Motorola Mobility, but did not infringe on a fifth patent named in the complaint. An ITC judge recommended the ban in late May, based on his ruling that Microsoft's Xbox infringes patents covering wireless Internet connectivity, video compression, and other technologies. The ITC was expected to release a decision on the proposed import block in August, but on Friday, June 29, the full commission sent the case back to the judge for reconsideration.

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According to Microsoft, the patents in question are standard-essential, i.e. FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) patents, therefore the company has a right to the technology covered by the patents as long as it pays licensing fees. FRAND patents cover technologies accepted as standards for a certain industry, provided the patent holders agree to license those standard-essential patents at reasonable rates.

After an ITC judge recommended banning Microsoft's Xbox in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wrote a letter to the ITC, warning that such a ban could cause "substantial harm" to consumers, competition and innovation. The FTC also suggested that companies should have limited abilities to block competitors' imports based on standard-essential patents.

The ITC is a very popular venue for patent lawsuits, because it has the authority to ban the importation of infringing products. Also, it is a preferred venue because it issues decisions relatively quickly. According to Reuters, however, this time the ITC judge's reconsideration of the Xbox case "will likely take months."

News also emerged on Friday, June 29, that the U.S. FTC has launched an investigation to determine whether Google and its Motorola Mobility unit have been respecting their FRAND commitments. The European Commission opened a similar probe into Motorola back in April. Motorola has also filed related lawsuits against Microsoft in federal courts in Wisconsin and Florida. Those lawsuits are currently pending an ITC decision.

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