Motorola forces Germany to ban iOS push mail

If you’ve emailed an iOS user in Germany during the last couple of days and they haven’t gotten back to you instantly, don’t be too hard on them – Apple (s:aapl) has been forced to disable push mail for iCloud and MobileMe there.

The move is the result of a permanent ban Motorola (s:MMI)won on the feature earlier this month. Although it almost goes without saying, the tussle is all to do with patents, and the ban on push mail constitutes just one facet of the sprawling, all-out war between Apple, Android and a good chunk of the wider mobile industry.

According to Apple:

“Due to recent patent litigation by Motorola Mobility, iCloud and MobileMe users are currently unable to have iCloud and MobileMe email pushed to their iOS devices while located within the borders of Germany.”

The patent in question covers a “multiple pager status synchronization system and method”, which turns out to be pretty essential for offering push mail. The ban doesn’t mean that iCloud and MobileMe aren’t working in Germany – it just means the services can’t use that one feature. That’s why iOS users there have to set their iPhones and iPads to do mail-pulls at timed intervals, or (shudder) check their mail manually.

And for those reading this in the U.S. and chuckling, I wouldn’t get too comfy if I were you. Motorola launched a similar suit in Florida in January, accusing Apple of infringing on the U.S. equivalent of the same patent.

However, the permanent ban on iCloud and MobileMe push mail in Germany shouldn’t be confused – although confusion is more than understandable – with the temporary injunction Motorola won at the same time against certain models of iPhone and iPad. That was a temporary injunction that only resulted in the devices being taken off sale for a couple of hours, and was to do with a standards-essential 3G patent, rather than a push mail one.

The 3G patent stuff may backfire on Motorola. Standards-essential patents are supposed to be licensed out on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms, but Motorola – and its almost-owner Google – reckon 2.25 percent of the entire device’s sale price is a fair deal. Apple disagrees, and has fired off a complaint to Europe’s antitrust authorities about the issue.

But that will have to be dealt with in the future. For now, Apple’s German customers are really feeling  the pain of the patent wars for the first time. However, it may work out for Apple in getting users to take up iCloud, which is largely a replacement for MobileMe.

Until its appeal gets accepted or rejected, Apple is offering two slightly different solutions for its iOS users in Germany. iCloud users get the easier deal, as the service will switch back to push as soon as the user leaves Germany. MobileMe users just lose push forever as soon as they check their mail in Germany, and Apple recommends switching to iCloud instead – which was kind of what they were pushing for anyway.