Apple has won a narrow victory over HTC in one of the companies' patent battles, with the US International Trade Commission ordering HTC to stop infringing on an Apple patent in its Android smartphones.
Apple has won a narrow victory against HTC over patents used in Android, but the Taiwanese company has claimed the result as a 'win' for itself. Photo credit: James Martin/CNET News
The ITC ruling (PDF), announced on Monday after multiple delays, stated that HTC must from 19 April, 2012 stop US imports of devices that infringe on two claims in the '647 patent. This patent covers the functionality where a smartphone user can tap on a link in, for example, an email to initiate a phone call or open a web page.
HTC has claimed the ITC ruling as a victory for itself, as Apple had originally tried to assert 10 patents against HTC, with multiple claims of infringement in many of these patents. In the event, the ITC only upheld two of the four claims Apple was citing in just one of those 10 patents.
"The Commission has... determined that the appropriate remedy is a limited exclusion order prohibiting the entry of personal data and mobile communications devices and related software that infringe claims 1 or 8 of the '647 patent," the ITC ruling said. "The exclusion of articles subject to the order shall commence on April 19, 2012 to provide a transition period for US carriers."
The ITC also said that HTC would be allowed to continue to import
refurbished handsets that infringe on the patent, so it can provide
them as replacements under warranty or insurance contract.
"This exemption does not permit HTC to call new devices 'refurbished' and to import them as replacements," the ruling stressed.
The ruling on Monday overturned most of a decision made by an ITC administrative law judge in July.
By the time that official, judge Carl Charneski, gave his initial determination, the 10 patents initially asserted in March 2010 had already been whittled down to four. Charneski said HTC was not infringing on the '721 and '983 patents, but ruled that HTC was infringing on claims 1, 8, 15 and 19 of the '647 patent, and also on four claims of the '263 patent.
The '263 patent is somewhat more fundamental than the link-tapping '647 patent, as it describes a real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data — getting around this would probably have required reworking some of Android's architecture.
HTC expressed pleasure at the reversal of Charneski's ruling on the '263 patent and at the overall ITC ruling on Monday, calling it "a win for HTC".
This ruling falls far short of anything would force HTC out of the US market in the near term. – Florian Mueller
"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," HTC said. "We are very pleased with the determination and we respect it. The '647 patent is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon."
Patent expert Florian Mueller said the '647 patent was "one of medium value" compared to the others Apple had been trying to assert. He said HTC might be able to work around it, as the company says it will, or it might have to remove the 'Linkify' functionality altogether, which would put it at a slight disadvantage in the smartphone market.
"Either way, this ruling falls far short of anything would force HTC out of the US market in the near term," Mueller wrote on Monday on his FOSS patents blog. "Also, out of 10 patents originally asserted, Apple finally prevailed on only one. Apple will need a higher 'hit rate' in the future, and it will have to enforce patents that are greatly more impactful than this one."
The ruling on Monday will not be the last in the protracted, multifaceted war between Apple and various Android manufacturers around the globe. For a start, Apple filed a separate ITC complaint against HTC in July, to do with scrolling and touchscreen patents.
HTC itself has taken Apple to the ITC over alleged patent infringements, although the initial ruling in that case has gone in Apple's favour — a final decision will follow in February. HTC is also suing Apple in London's High Court.
HTC also announced in July that it was to buy S3 Graphics, which was at the time doing well in its own, separate ITC case against Apple. However, S3 lost that case in November, reportedly leading HTC to reconsider buying the company.
Beyond the HTC cases, Apple is engaged in multiple legal skirmishes with Samsung, at the ITC and the UK High Court and in more than 20 different court cases overall.
Apple is also suing Motorola in the US over patents allegedly infringed in its Android phones, although Motorola has sued Apple back in that country. Motorola also won a ruling against Apple in a German court this month, which may result in a sales injunction.