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Judge instructs Apple, Motorola to 'narrow' patent disputes

A Florida judge has had just about enough of the patent fight between Google's Motorola and Apple.

In an order this week, Judge Robert N. Scola rejected a request for a case-management conference, and ordered the two sides to narrow the case on their own time. He accused Motorola and Apple of using their patent battle as a "business strategy," which is "not a proper use of this court."

"Most parties that come before the Court are trying to resolve their legal dispute as expeditiously, efficiently, and fairly as possible so that they can get on with their business or personal lives," Judge Scola wrote in his decision.

In most cases, the court will step in and mediate certain issues as they arise, but in the case of Motorola and Apple, "the parties' obstreperous and cantankerous conduct - combined with the existence of similar cases by the same parties or their affiliates throughout the world - makes it plain that the parties have no interest in efficiently and expeditiously resolving this dispute."

The case, which dates back to Januaey 2012, has ballooned to cover 180 claims on 12 patents. At this point, Motorola and Apple are fighting over the meaning of more than 100 terms from those claims, the judge said.

Claim issues are usually resolved by something known as a Markman process, but because there are so many claims to be discussed, Apple and Motorola have argued that resolving all the issues via Markman will be "unrealistic." As a result, they both acknowledge that the case needs to be narrowed, but "the parties unsurprisingly have been unable to agree on how to accomplish this goal," the judge said.

Judge Scola will not be the one to move that process along. "Without a hint of irony, the parties now ask the Court to mop up a mess they made by holding a hearing to reduce the size and complexity of the case. The Court declines this invitation," he wrote this week.

The judge did, however, agree to delay the Markman process by four months. Briefs are due on 5 August and a hearing is scheduled for 30 September. "The Court expects that the parties will use this time to narrow the case to a manageable scope themselves," Judge Scola said.

"If the parties cannot make this case manageable, the Court forewarns them that it intends to stay the litigation while the Markman issues are pending and issue a decision as expeditiously as the parties deserve," he concluded.

Motorola filed the suit in question last year, asking the court for an injunction against the iPhone 4S and Apple's iCloud service. That came shortly after the International Trade Commission found that Motorola's smartphones did not violate Apple's patents.

Motorola first sued Apple in October 2010 regarding 18 patents covering Apple's iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and certain Mac computers. Apple countersued several weeks later, saying that Motorola multi-touch smartphones use Apple-owned intellectual property.