Apple has been busy in the courts lately with lawsuits underway with Motorola, Samsung, Lodsys and HTC. Apple lawyers now have a reason to celebrate as the US International Trade Commission (ITC) delivered an “initial determination” that Taiwanese phone maker HTC violated two of Apple’s key iOS patents.
Last year Apple filed a complaint with the ITC claiming infringement on ten of its patents by HTC and has since added additional patent infringement claims. This week’s determination by an administrative law judge agreed two of the originally contested patents were indeed infringed upon. AllThingsD identified the two patents as 5,946,647 covering a “system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer” and 6,343,263 which describes a “real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data.” The next step in the process will be a review of the decision by the six-member Commission (the highest decision-making body at the ITC), making it too early to declare a clear victory. Like with most law suits, there will also be an appeal and according to HTC general counsel Grace Lei, HTC vows to defend itself “using all means possible.”
Should the final outcome favor Apple, the ITC has the power to ultimately ban infringing products from the country. Although such drastic action is rare, a ruling against HTC has a number of possible scenarios according to FOSS Patents‘ Florian Mueller. Because the patents are “very likely to be infringed by code that is at the core of Android,” the worst case could result in an import ban on Android-based HTC products in the US and open the door for Apple to file for bans against dozens of other Android device makers. Another less extreme scenario would require HTC to remove specific functions from its products, potentially resulting in a degradation of quality. It’s possible, although probably unlikely, Apple and HTC could reach an agreement on licensing the patents in question.
With a possible win, Apple would have the upper hand in its fight against handset makers using Google’s Android operating system. Apple, Microsoft and other equipment vendors have been using the courts to try to protect their intellectual property (IP) and force other mobile device makers to either license the offending IP or use it as a bargaining chip to setup a cross licensing agreement between the two parties. The increased litigation is one of the reasons Apple, RIM, Microsoft, Sony, Ericsson and EMC partnered together to buy the 6,000 patents held by Nortel. The consortium agreed to pay $4.5 billion dollars, outbidding Google’s top offer by a half billion.
FOSS Patents’ Mueller also states that Apple has 16 additional patents in question, another ITC complaint and three federal lawsuits against HTC. This case appears to be among a long list of law suits involving Android and not all of them include Apple. It will certainly be interesting to see how things play out for the companies involved and ultimately how the consumers will be affected.