Apple's HTC lawsuit: Is it biting off more than it can sue?

Apple's HTC lawsuit: Is it biting off more than it can sue?

Summary: Apple's high-profile patent lawsuit vs. HTC could set off a wide range of unintended consequences including a big two-front legal battle with well-heeled foes like Google and Microsoft. Can Apple really win a legal showdown with both Google and Microsoft?


Apple's high-profile patent lawsuit vs. HTC could set off a wide range of unintended consequences including a big two-front legal battle with well-heeled foes like Google and Microsoft. As noted by CNet's Maggie Reardon, Apple's motives so far are unclear. On the surface, it appears that Apple wants to merely push aside HTC, an emerging smartphone threat. Zoom out a bit and you could picture a patent war on the horizon. Apple isn't in the patent game for revenue or cross licensing deals---the motive of many patent lawsuits. Apple is looking to use patents as a moat around its iPhone juggernaut.

But let's fast forward a bit. Apple's lawsuit against HTC and Android (and Google by proxy) is likely to bring the search giant into the legal mix at some point. Google will stand behind Android. The wild card is Microsoft. Apple didn't call Microsoft out by name, but the HTC devices mentioned in its complaint run on Windows Mobile.

Also see: HTC responds to Apple - the long-term hit? · Apple sues HTC

The HTC phones specifically mentioned in Apple's complaint include:

  • Nexus One;
  • Touch Pro;
  • Touch Diamond;
  • Touch Pro 2;
  • Tilt II;
  • Pure;
  • Imagio;
  • Dream;
  • myTouch 3G;
  • Hero;
  • HD2;
  • and Droid Eris.

While Android is mentioned heavily in Apple's complaint it needs to be noted that the Touch Pro 2, Touch Diamond, Imagio, Pure and Tilt II are Windows Mobile phones.

Update: In the talkbacks there are questions about whether the phones above are Windows Mobile phones. Here are the links for cross reference purposes: HTC's Windows Mobile phones (listed above and in the lawsuit). And the HTC's Android lineup.

The Microsoft-powered HTC phones are cited in Apple's complaint for violating digital signal processing patent, which is also in the middle of the Nokia patent fight too.

The excerpt from the complaint:

Meanwhile, there has been some indirect back and forth over multitouch patents with Microsoft and Apple before.

Reardon's money quote comes from Jason Schultz, director of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Law:

"If Apple just wants to push one competitor out of the way, then it may not implicate Google or Microsoft at all. But if they are staking out their turf and letting everyone know that they own the whole touchscreen smartphone market, then there will be a showdown."

That's a showdown Apple can't be serious about. Apple has a ton of cash, but so does Google and Microsoft. Apple vs. a tag team of lawyers from Google and Microsoft is an unwinnable war.

What could Apple be thinking?

Perhaps Apple just wants to squash iPhone lookalikes, but is that really the best use of the company's time? HTC is clearly the weakest legal link in this chain. HTC doesn't have the history or bag of patent tricks to fight Apple well.

Apple could be hoping for a chilling effect from other handset makers looking to avoid a legal battle. But Apple is walking a tightrope. It needs to whack HTC without drawing Google and Microsoft into the fight. Riddle me this: Can you realistically just focus on the hardware here? If so perhaps Apple can prosecute a surgical strike on HTC. The reality is that the smartphone software and hardware are intertwined. You can expect that Google and Microsoft will defend their code at some point.

Then the real legal fireworks will begin and Apple may find out it bit off more than it can sue.

Topics: Google, Apple, Hardware, HTC, Legal, Microsoft, Mobility, Smartphones

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  • I've been telling you people

    That the main loser is M$ and other makers will just start making android phones if HTC can't.
    Linux Geek
    • Brilliant....

      Analyses. Good thing you didn't let your emotions get in the way of the truth. Brilliant.
      • LOL - brilliant like a lump of cinder - LOL nt

        • Apple trying to get incentive for innovation?

          Apple mentioned they were trying to get an incentive for innovation. What the h-e double L are they talking about!? All their technology in that phone has been used since 2002 as far as I know from my use of the Hitachi G1000. The only ?NEW? thing is the TouchFlo technology which they purchased rights to use and rebranded with a different name. Coincidently HTC purchased right to use TouchFlo?s technology and kept the name. I?m not sure which company came up with the technology(F-Origin I think, fact check please).

          No matter what; Apple is doing NOTHING new. They are dirty rats that rip ignorant people off charging them too much for a PC that does very little. Apple feeds on ignorance and the ignorants desire to follow flashy marketing.
          • Yeah!

            And troglodytes keep shuffling around in their caves. When I read
            juvenile post like this one I wonder who the author is trying to convince,
            my guess is themselves.
          • He has a point.....

            Marketing is America. There are some out there that could market a bag of crap to some ignorant American's. Not saying Apple is a bag of crap, but you see it across politics and products all the time. Why the heck does the infomercials do so well? Because people get sucked in many times to find out that it ain't all its cracked up to be. Just go and read some of the fanboism's going on around so many products and you see most of the times the fanboys will lie to make their point.
          • Business is marketing

            Even the bread seller has to stand in the town square and shout "fresh bread for sale".

            Without marketing, nobody knows that your product exists, nor do they know what it does or why they might want one.

            You cannot criticize companies for marketing their products to the best of their abilities and to make their products as attractive to their core customers.

            Without marketing, you make no sales and you have no business. Period.
          • Yeah, but......

            attacking someone elses product does not tell me one lick about your own product. I don't think I have ever seen any advertising touting the actual product at hand. The iPhone did, but thats it. Never seen a Mac computer commercial show me anything about OSX. Not one. If you know of one lets see it?
          • Hardware & Touch Interface Chip Are the Same! :D

            Always makes me laugh when someone states the
            truth and then all the Applelettes, iPhoney,
            iPhail fans start crawling out of the wood
            work. In order to defend a company that is not
            a true hardware manufacturer.

            When the chips boards, pieces and parts all
            come from factories they don't own and are in
            other REAL PC's instead of Intel PC Clones!
            ...yeah Intel Macs are simply x86 PC clones.
            iPhone's chips are the same chips used in other
            brands. The Touch interface chip technology is
            old (1976 bank atm had it).

            Multiple touch feature has been there from the
            beginning (Kiosk Touch interface). Apple's
            patents are so generic as to be a joke. You can
            not patent a new use for an old device. Only
            new devices and that excludes the patenting of
            iDeas that merely change how something is used.

            The only thing Apple really owns is the Multi-
            touch Trademark. Call it what you want, but
            Apple licensed Touch and rebranded it Multi-
            Touch. It doesn't do anything it didn't already
            have the ability to do before. Pinch Zoom puts
            it in the same category if trademarked. Other
            than that, it's like Windsurfer makers being
            forced to call their craft Sailboards.

            But why in the world do all you Apple Zealots
            persist in thinking Apple can do no wrong is
            beyond what most real people think about Apple!
          • Don't we know!

            "No matter what; Apple is doing NOTHING new."

            Yes, for example, Apple was the principal, early backer of WebKit
            development, which formed the basis for the first, best mobile browsing
            experience. WebKit is now utilized by most major smart phone OS
            developers. Nothing new there!
          • Not so fast

            Look at the history of webkit. Apple didn't create it and decided "Hey, I think I'll give this to the community to further its development." Apple didn't have a choice but to open source webkit because they forked khtml, and couldn't find a way to make it proprietary without violating the license. Need proof? Safari is a webkit based browser, yet, Apple decided that you can't recompile your version of Safari with your own webkit tweaks, but you can tweak the engine itself. What good does tweaking an engine if you have to start from scratch with the browser?

            Look at Apple's history for using Open Source software. They have only managed to actually start about three projects to give to the open source community (CUPS probably being the most beneficial, but they purchased that and it was already GPL). The rest, they modified existing projects, and locked the binaries up so you couldn't implement your changes into the OS/device AT YOUR OWN RISK! This isn't an innovative company, this is a company who happens to be really good at stealing then marketing others' ideas.

            Hell, even Microsoft gave 20,000 lines of code to Linux and they have zero strategic advantage to do so. You know it's bad when a company who claims Linux violates 200+ patents is still willing to help out original innovators before a company (Apple), who just wants a super-monopoly using the works of others, is willing to give back for the sake of innovation.

            Apple is trying to play hard ball as their products head into decline (as expected), but doing so might backfire on them if the open source community decides to change the licenses of their projects to prevent this crap in the future. Little Tivo tried the same thing and the GPLv3 was created, Apple has been pulling the same crap for years and the community has let it slide for too long.
          • BRAVO! BRAVO!

            Millystone, you hit the nail on the head. That's all apple is, A Giant Rat. (side track:)I work where Apple has a presence and its kind of funny to me because of the limits of the Mac platform. I use a MacBook (comp isssued) but 90% of my work I do in a virtual Windows environment. Which by the way seem to run a lot smoother on a PC than MAC platform.

            Many Kudos to you. I like your style and stating facts about the Tech. I've gotten tired of telling those loving fans of the iPhone that the tech in the iPhone wasn't anything new when they tell me my TP2 and Nexus are iPhone wanna be's. I show them photos & vids of my old but still working Siemens SX56 and SX66 from 2002. Ignorance, what a bliss.
          • Apple is doing DIFFERENT

            >Apple is doing NOTHING new

            I don't know what Apple does (new or not new), but I like it, have liked it for
            20+ years. Don't get me wrong, I have also looked to the dark side. I have a
            PC, but I don't like.

            >charging them too much

            I am totally comfortable with Apple prices. Actually, I think Apple stuff is very

            > ignorants desire to follow flashy marketing

            I never read Apple adverts, so I don't know if its flashy. When Apple release a
            new product I try it. If I like it, I buy it.
    • What do ya mean you people?

      Tropic Thunder...
      • LOL - very good, nt

      • sounds like a racist remark

        sounds like a racist remark to me
      • Huh! HUH!

        Hot D@mn! LOL!

        Tropic Thunder, Crazy dumb movie but funny as all get-up.
    • Linux Geek,

      go get a job and life.
      Yam Digger
    • @LG: Ermmm ... you know that if Apple close down HTC's Android phones ...

      That they'll be able to use the precedents to close down anyone else making an Android handset, right?
      • And perhaps more to the point ...

        ... if Apple goes after MS for patent infringement, you can bet your bottom $ that MS will have a long list of patents that Apple is infringing. The two will work out a deal, exchange some cash, agree to license some of each others' patents and get on with their respective businesses.

        The Linux community is going to defend themselves with WHAT Patent portfolio?