An administrative law judge at the US International Trade Commission issued a preliminary ruling today in Motorola's patent infringement case against Apple — holding that iPhone and iPad devices infringe US patent no. 6,246,697. As with all preliminary rulings at the ITC, this decision is subject to review by a full panel of ITC judges, so there won't be any immediate impact on the sales of iOS devices in the near term.

The '697 patent covers a method of generating a pseudonoise sequence in a wireless communication system, and was one of four patents originally asserted against Apple in this particular ITC proceeding. Apple has argued the patent covers standards-essential wireless technology that Motorola has refused to license under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. However, that's an issue for the courts to decide, not the ITC. And while it still remains to be seen how the US courts will address these FRAND issues, the EU was quick to initiate its formal investigation into the matter earlier this month.

Both Motorola and Apple commented on the ruling to All Things D, with Motorola saying it's "pleased that the ALJ's initial determination finds Apple to be in violation of Motorola Mobility's intellectual property, and look forward to the full commission's ruling in August." Not surprisingly, Apple has a different take, indicating it was happy three of the four patents were found to not be infringed and that "the fourth covers industry-standard technology which Motorola has refused to license to Apple on reasonable terms." Apple went on to emphasize that "a court in Germany has already declared this patent invalid, so we believe we will have a very strong case on appeal." It'll likely be some time before we get a definitive resolution on the infringement and FRAND accusations bouncing back and forth between these two companies, but we'll keep you updated as things evolve.