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iPhones yanked from German shelves in Motorola patent war

Apple takes down 4 and 3G models - for now

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Apple has removed the iPhone 4 and 3Gs from its stores in Germany, almost certainly in response to Motorola's December action rather than today's patent win.

But today's German court victory for Motorola is probably more important: it covers Apple's iCloud service and – by extension – any device which uses it. Apple will be appealing that decision, and Motorola can't get the decision enforced without lodging a €100m bond to cover restitution in case Apple wins the appeal.

But it seems Motorola has done exactly that with reference to its December win, forcing Apple to pull the iPhone 4 and 3Gs, and the cellular-supporting iPad, from the German Apple store.

That December ruling was based on a patent which is declared essential to the 3G standard, and therefore should be licensed under Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) rules, but Motorola reckons Apple tried to have conditions attached to the licence relieving Motorola of its FRAND obligations.

The German court agreed, though the matter is still subject to appeal. Apple asked the court to impose a €2bn bond on enforcement, money it would be entitled to claim against if it wins the appeal, but the court reckoned €100m would be enough to avoid frivolous enforcement and Apple is still free to claim for more - if it wins the appeal.

We don't know if Motorola, or Google, will stump up another €100m to force Germans to switch off iCloud. Florian Mueller, who spends a good deal of time looking at such things, reckons German Apple users could be required to start pulling their MobileMe emails (as opposed to having messages pushed to them, as that's covered by the Motorola patent).

He also hypothesises that the iPhone 4S is still on German shelves as it uses a radio chip from Qualcomm, which might well have a licence from Motorola, as opposed to the Intel chips used in the iPad as well as earlier models of iPhone.

We've reached out to Apple for confirmation on those points, and heard nothing back so far, but Cupertino has been a good deal more chatty lately so we'll let you know if we hear more.

The cold war between Google and Apple is obviously heating up. Although the ruling won't be applicable outside Germany, it has resulted in Apple products being pulled from the shelves, and won't be the last blood spilled before this is over. ®

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