In December 2011, Motorola filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission (ITC) against Apple over six patents. One of the patents in question was removed from the complaint a few weeks prior to this hearing, and on January 5th, Motorola removed yet another, US Patent No. 7,751,826. The patent would help users more easily make the important decision of whether they should leave the location feature that relies on the GPS device built into their smartphones on, or turn it off.
A significant portion of the population chooses to turn this feature off, not wanting to broadcast their location for a host of privacy-related reasons. For some of them, it is an easy decision. There are those, however, that are torn between the two. If the user turns off the location feature which uses your GPS coordinates to pinpoint your exact location, the E911 system wouldn’t be able to do the same in the case of an emergency. This information is crucial to first responders, especially if you are incoherent and unable to tell them where you are, or if you are lost and really don’t know the name of the intersection or highway you are traveling on.
This patent describes many different ways phones could temporarily allow GPS tracking, sending their location to first responders without having to go through a host of menus in attempts to reactivate the feature manually. Let’s face it, in most emergency situations, you normally don’t have the time to go through that process. One of the ways covered in the patent: the number sequence “9-1-1” triggers the GPS device to automatically turn itself on. Another method covered is a special button. When pressed, it activates the GPS device to begin tracking your location.
Dropping this patent from the lawsuit seems to make sense. Would the ITC even allow Motorola to exclusively offer the option to turn off location tracking without compromising the ability for emergency responders to find you when calling 911? Probably not. Florian Mueller of Foss Patents agrees. “If Motorola won an ITC import ban over devices implementing that feature, it’s quite possible that the ITC would deny or delay such a ban for public interest considerations.”
While the E911 patent was removed from this complaint filed with the ITC, it interestingly remains in another lawsuit filed in Wisconsin by Motorola, also against Apple. Motorola is claiming the iPhone infringes upon Motorola-held patents, while Apple has its own lawsuit in motion, scheduled to go to trial November 25, 2012, against Motorola. Apple feels this is a FRAND issue (Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory terms) and as such, they should be granted access to these patents. Stay tuned, we’ll keep you updated here at the RMT blog as new details emerge and hearings are scheduled.