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Apple wins initial ITC ruling over HTC

by Scott Bicheno on 18 July 2011, 11:24

Tags: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), HTC (TPE:2498)

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Suffocating

It's with a heavy heart that we start the week with another patent story because a) at their core, they're dull, b) we've been writing a lot of them recently, but most importantly c) they're a massive distraction from what we really want to be writing about - cool mobile device innovations.

But we owe it to you - the reader who wants to keep on top of business trends in the mobile device market - to keep you abreast of developments that affect the business, and the current patent litigation-frenzy very much qualifies.

At the centre of most of the litigation these days is Android - the Google-owned mobile platform with many third-party contributors. Android has been grabbing smartphone market-share hand over fist in the past couple of years and two of its biggest competitors - Apple with iOS and Microsoft with WP7 - have alleged the platform infringes some of their technology patents.

Apple kicked things off by lodging a complaint against HTC with both a district court and the USITC (US-based International Trade Commission) back in March 2010. The ITC part of that has, after over a year, reached the ‘initial determination' stage, in which a single judge has made a ruling, which will be reviewed by a committee later in the year.

The judge concluded two of Apple's complaints were valid. If this ruling is upheld it could result in HTC being banned from importing devices using the offending patents into the US - effectively freezing HTC out of one of its biggest markets.

One of the patents is for a quite technical process, but another covers something we can all get our heads around. Fortune summarises it well - it's the technology that allows the phone to recognise written passages as addresses, phones numbers, URL's, etc, and automatically turn those passages into links containing the appropriate functionality.

These apparent patent infringements are of concern, not just to HTC, but to all Android OEMs, as they seem to be intrinsic to Android, rather than HTC-specific features. As FOSS Patents put it: "[The] Patents appear to be at the core of Android and infringed by all Android devices".

Inevitably HTC is going to appeal, but it's also working hard on finding work-arounds for any patents it may be infringing. "We are highly confident we have a strong case for the ITC appeals process and are fully prepared to defend ourselves using all means possible," said Grace Lei, general counsel of HTC. "We strongly believe we have alternate solutions in place for the issues raised by Apple. We look forward to resolving this case, so we can continue creating the most innovative mobile experiences for consumers."

The HTC release containing the above statement also made a point of noting that the ITC has already ruled Apple infringes on a couple of patents owned by S3, which it acquired earlier this month. As we said at the time "HTC seems to have bought some leverage over Apple that, at the very least, may come in handy in the ongoing legal aggro between the two."

FOSS Patents doesn't reckon Apple would be too keen on licensing these patents - as Microsoft has done - even if the final judgment is in its favour, preferring instead to seek damages and force HTC to work around them. This could also be the first of many such rulings against Android, which is already under severe patent pressure.

We think it's sad that do much litigation is underway, much of it prompted by Apple. The spirit of the patent system is supposed to be to protect inventors from having their ideas stolen, but they now seem to be a way for large companies to suppress competition. In fact, given the age of these Apple patents, they must have been filed to protect Mac OS, rather than iOS...

Of course intellectual property needs to be protected, but Android is clearly quite different to iOS and WP7, and it's a shame that it looks set to be a less viable mobile platform thanks to the legal efforts of Apple and Microsoft.

But having said that, it's surely now time for Google and the OHA to get their act together and ensure Android is squeaky clean when it comes to patents. Alternatively they can counter-attack. The list of OEM members of the OHA alone is pretty impressive; surely between them they can find some patents Apple and Microsoft have infringed and come to a cross-licensing agreement.

 



HEXUS Forums :: 15 Comments

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"Of course intellectual property needs to be protected, but Android is clearly quite different to iOS and WP7, and it's a shame that it looks set to be a less viable mobile platform thanks to the legal efforts of Apple and Microsoft and Apple."

Arguably not a typo - like you say, Apple is somewhat less keen to license, so twice as guilty?
;-)
This is starting to get out of hand.... one of the key reasons i hate america! I wonder how many patents Apple has infringed, i bet its a crap loads cause apple hardly innovate and that is proven once again here.... its a patent from 1996, and now they are pulling it out of the grave because they are all out of ideas on how to stop competition.

The fact is that as patents have to be so broad in their description it makes it extremely hard to not infringe even though the actual method is totally different but if you give a brief description on how you get to it it then sounds similar to a previous patent.

I know MS is sometimes disliked but that is the reason i like them, yes they have a crap load of patents but atleast they LET people pay to use them, Apple seem to want to be the only phone manufacturer so i hope it makes a massive u turn and all of HTC patents win against apple.
Tpyo
"Of course intellectual property needs to be protected, but Android is clearly quite different to iOS and WP7, and it's a shame that it looks set to be a less viable mobile platform thanks to the legal efforts of Apple and Microsoft and Apple."

Arguably not a typo - like you say, Apple is somewhat less keen to license, so twice as guilty?
;-)


oops, thanks :)
I can't help thinking these issues would be better protected by copyright in the code that implements these ideas, rather than patenting the idea. *

The patent system currently seems to be used these days to protect the functionality of an idea (often extremely vague ideas at that), rather than the implementation. For example, in terms of the multi-touch stuff, I think it is reasonable for Apple or anyone else to protect the exact implementation of using >1 point of contact. I can imagine they may have spent time researching ergonomics, what's easiest for the average Joe to remember, that sort of thing. However, even then, there are obvious finger pointing combinations that anyone trying to implement such a system would inevitably think about using (e.g. two fingers pointing together, two fingers pointing separated, etc...) More generally, I just can't see why the patent system be used to prevent anyone else from implementing any kind of multi-touch input system??

And the example here is again what I think is basic functionality - recognising e.g. telephone numbers, email addresses etc... Surely that is obvious functionality if you think about it for at least a few minutes. I presume they haven't ripped off the code Apple used to implement the idea (I'm also guessing when the patent was granted, Apple didn't have any code).

*I've not actually read the patents involved or really read up on individual cases, so I may have entirely mis-understood what is being argued about...
And the example here is again what I think is basic functionality - recognising e.g. telephone numbers, email addresses etc... Surely that is obvious functionality if you think about it for at least a few minutes. I presume they haven't ripped off the code Apple used to implement the idea (I'm also guessing when the patent was granted, Apple didn't have any code).

These patents are usually only obvious after the fact. It has taken someone time, money and effort to develop them beforehand, so it's only right that that effort is protected.