Apple's New Hobby

Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI  ) is on a roll.

Less than a month ago, it scored a legal victory over Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) when the International Trade Commission ruled that the smartphone maker was mostly in the clear when it came to Mr. Softy's allegations that Motorola infringed on its patents. Out of the nine patents included in the original case, Motorola was found guilty of encroaching only one.

Well, now Motorola can add another tech titan to its list of fallen legal foes: mighty Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) . The Mac maker had filed suit requesting to block the import of popular Motorola phones like the Droid and Droid X, claiming that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android infringed on its intellectual property. In an initial determination, the ITC's administrative law judge ruled in favor of Motorola, finding that it did not infringe on any of the three patents Apple had listed.

The ITC will still review the ruling, and Apple will certainly appeal the decision, but for now Motorola can enjoy its initial victory. The ongoing patent warfare continues to wage on. In Apple's recent suit against Android OEM HTC, the Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer also claimed the majority of the win, being exonerated from most of the allegations.

It also adds some context to the notion that Apple's patent offensive may not be worth it. On the other hand, Microsoft has been incredibly successful with its patent quest, recently inking its 11th licensing deal with Android vendor LG and now milking royalty checks out of more than 70% of Android phones sold in the United States.

The two titans are taking dramatically different approaches, though. Microsoft is aiming to cross-license its IP and generate royalties, which most Android vendors have demonstrated they are willing to do instead of duke it out in the courts. Motorola and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) are two of the larger holdouts, and Motorola's defiance is paying off, while B&N needs help.

Apple is opting to go for the gold and aggressively trying to ban Android devices without compromise, which is an immensely tall order to fill. Even when Cupertino has scored victories, Android makers can simply design around the IP and the victory becomes a speed bump instead of a roadblock. When Android wins outright, as in this recent case with Motorola, the OEM is allowed to proceed uninhibited, although the appeals will continue.

Apple is caught in a tough spot. As iWorld War 3P rages on, it increasingly seems like it won't pay off. At the same time, Steve Jobs' steadfast principles would never allow a compromise with Android. Given that it was one of his last legacies before his death, I don't see Apple betraying its fallen co-founder's ideals anytime soon.

Yet along with the current Apple TV, the patent war may as well be considered a hobby.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google and creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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