We've seen the harmonization of Apple's patent defense strategies develop against Samsung over the past several months, and now it looks like Apple is extending these strategies to its defenses against Motorola. According to a report by Reuters, Apple filed a new case in California federal court today, claiming Motorola's patent infringement cases against Apple in Germany breach Motorola's licensing agreement with San Diego-based Qualcomm. This matches up with Apple's defenses against Samsung — companies can't double dip on licensing fees under the legal principle of patent exhaustion.
Wireless baseband chips now used in iPhones are purchased from Qualcomm, and Apple argues that Qualcomm already pays Motorola (and Samsung) patent licensing fees for those components. Under the legal doctrine of patent exhaustion, Motorola can only demand one payment per use of the patented technology. Apple already paid Qualcomm for the right to use Motorola's patented technology when it paid for the Qualcomm chips, so Motorola's enforceable patent rights relative to those components are now all used up. This new suit in California simply brings the issue to a head by alleging that Motorola breached its agreement with Qualcomm by attempting to collect those licensing fees again.
While Apple's FRAND defenses have received a lot of news coverage lately, this patent exhaustion defense may be equally important. Patent exhaustion is an established principle under US patent law, and it has a certain common-sense appeal for both judges and juries. To the extent the Qualcomm baseband chips are fully covered under an existing license, it'll be difficult for Motorola to argue it deserves another bite at the Apple, so to speak. Of course, there's always the issue of whether Apple will be able to fully utilize a favorable US court ruling on contract breach to stop Motorola's patent assertions in Germany, but we'll keep an eye on all of this as the cases progress.