Apple gets U.S. ban on HTC Android phones sales... for now

HTC wins some, but loses a big one in its latest patent battle with Apple. HTC says though that they have a way to get around Apple's legal victory.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Apple hopes theyve broken HTC and Android, but HTC disagrees.

Apple hopes they've broken HTC and Android, but HTC disagrees.

It's just another lousy day in the mobile software patent wars. Today, December 19th, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in Apple's favor in a patent battle with HTC. This ITC has ordered an import ban on many HTC Android phones starting April 19, 2012.

According to the ITC decision (PDF link), HTC Android smartphones infringe two claims of U.S. patent #5,946,647. This is a typical over-reaching software patent.

This particular patent covers analyzing and linking data structures between documents and programs. If upheld, it implicates not just HTC's implementation but Android and any other operating system that takes formatted data from a basic document and allows it to be shared and integrate on another application.

So, for example, if you can click on a phone number on a phone list and your smartphone can automatically dial that number, congrats. Unless you're using an iPhone, you're probably violating Apple's patent. Go directly out of the market. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Since this is an exclusion order and not a cease and desist order, HTC will be able to keep selling its current family of devices in the U.S. The boom will be lowered, unless HTC pulls a rabbit, or new firmware update anyway, out of its hat, by April.

Fortunately, HTC may have such a bunny in its bonnet. In an e-mail letter, an HTC representative said, "We are gratified that the commission affirmed the judge's determination on the '721 and '983 patents, and reversed its decision on the '263 patent and partially on the '647 patent. While disappointed that a finding of violation was still found on two claims of the '647 patent, we are well prepared for this decision, and our designers have created alternate solutions for the '647 patent."

So, if HTC is right, the company is one firmware release away from being able to continue to sell its Android phones in the U.S. past April. Until, of course, Apple sues them on whatever new method they use to implement this popular feature.

In the meantime, as a developer friend of mine said, "All of this horse-shit just wastes tons of developer time." Well that and its raises the prices of all mobile devices as all the vendors continue to spend hundreds of millions in intellectual property lawsuits around the world.

Broken Android Phone image by robertnelson, CC 2.0.

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