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Intellectual Ventures, Google face off as U.S. patent trial begins

A Google logo is seen at the garage where the company was founded on Google's 15th anniversary in Menlo Park, California September 26, 2013.
A Google logo is seen at the garage where the company was founded on Google's 15th anniversary in Menlo Park, California September 26, 2013.

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - Opening statements began on Thursday in patent owner Intellectual Ventures' trial against Google's Motorola Mobility unit in a lawsuit that could be a bellwether on public opinion toward intellectual property.

Intellectual Ventures (IV) claims that Motorola infringed on three patents covering a variety of smartphone-related technologies, including Google Play. Motorola has countered that the patents are not valid because the technology is already well-known to those within the industry, and that IV uses its patents to sue others rather than to innovate.

Motorola, which developed the equipment used to broadcast Neil Armstrong's moon landing in 1969, reminded jurors of its history of building technology. Motorola attorney William Boice played a recording of Armstrong's "one small step for man" quote in court.

"There's no building at Intellectual Ventures," said Boice. "They are in the business of bringing lawsuits."

To counter those claims, Intellectual Ventures' attorney Elizabeth Day urged the jury to focus on the inventors behind the patents. One of those patents, which covers detachable handset technology, was issued in 2006 to Rajendra Kumar and acquired by IV in 2011.

"Motorola will try to tell you the man who loved to invent didn't invent anything," she said of Kumar.

The trial pits two adversaries in the current debate in Congress over patent reform. Google, which acquired Motorola in 2012, is backing attempts to curb software patents and make it easier to fight lawsuits. IV has warned that Congress should not act too rashly to weaken patent owners' rights.

Privately held Intellectual Ventures and other patent buyers have been criticized by some in the technology industry for burdening innovation by using the patents they buy to pursue lawsuits instead of building products.

IV argues that unlike some of the firms denounced as "patent trolls," it invests only in quality intellectual property and does not file frivolous lawsuits. The multi-billion dollar patent firm has other lawsuits in pre-trial stages and has agreed to settlements for other, separate claims, but the Motorola lawsuit is the first case it has taken to trial since IV was founded 14 years ago.

The trial is expected to last about eight days. If Intellectual Ventures prevails, damages will be assessed in separate proceeding.

The case in U.S. District Court, District of Delaware is Intellectual Ventures I and Intellectual Ventures II vs. Motorola Mobility, 11-908.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware. Writing by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Amanda Kwan)

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