A court in Mannheim, Germany today held a preliminary hearing in a patent dispute between Motorola Mobility and Apple Sales International (a European Apple distribution subsidiary), and it seems like Apple's on the ropes.

While the hearing didn't discuss the particular merits of Motorola's patent infringement claim against Apple, the presiding judge issued substantial blows to Apple's defense by indicating that he believed the patent-in-suit was ripe for trial. The judge also seemed to agree with Motorola's reading of that patent (also known as "construction claims") in important ways that would allow it a broader scope of applicability at trial.

The judge did not seem interested in many of Apple's defenses, such as Motorola's claim lacking specificity, the patent in question being invalid, or that the patent should be construed more narrowly.

What's the patent? While I can only speak to its US equivalent, it's a particular method by which a pager (yep - this patent was filed in 1995) synchronizes the user's settings across all of that user's pager devices utilizing a backend server to communicate the changes. The patent contains references to calendars, alarms, rolodexes, and acquaintances - basically, contact and calendar sync. Given that Motorola Android smartphones have their own proprietary sync and backup app, it's quite possible that this app is in some way based on technology described in this patent.

Motorola asserts that Apple's iCloud (and formerly MobileMe) utilize the method described in this patent to synchronize information across devices. While Motorola's patent was described in the context of a pager, the actually claims in the patent use the word "transceiver" - which could be pretty much any electronic device capable of receiving wireless communications.

It's likely this patent is involved in Motorola's ongoing countersuit against Apple here in the U.S., but most documents in that case have been filed under seal.

Apple requested a $2.7 billion "bail" from Motorola that Apple would receive in the event that an injunction granted in favor of Motorola is overturned on appeal. The trial is scheduled for February next year.