HTC may not be able to sell smartphones in Germany in the run-up to Christmas, after the patent licensing company IPCom said it would start enforcing an earlier infringement ruling against HTC.
The judgement was actually handed down almost three years ago, when a Mannheim court said HTC was infringing on a crucial mobile telephony patent that IPCom acquired from Bosch. HTC appealed, putting off the effects of the judgement, and that appeal was due to be played out in court starting on Monday.
However, the Taiwanese manufacturer dropped its appeal at the eleventh hour. Although HTC disputes this interpretation, IPCom claimed victory, saying on Friday that it "intends to execute this injunction in the shortest possible time".
"Apparently, HTC has accepted it had no realistic chance of winning this case — the courts have clearly established that HTC has been infringing our patents and now given us the means to put a stop to it," IPCom managing director Bernhard Frohwitter said.
The patent, which IPCom bought along with many others from carphone pioneer Bosch in 2007, describes an algorithm that prioritises users so that phones can be effectively used in emergencies. The UK High Court upheld the patent in June in a dispute between IPCom and Nokia.
"Since HTC has never to come up with an offer that adequately reflects the value of these patents, IPCom has been left with no choice — we will use the right awarded by the courts, likely resulting in HTC devices disappearing from shops during the crucial Christmas season," Frohwitter added.
However, HTC said IPCom had not won. "HTC considers that the appeal had become redundant as the German Federal Patents Court had previously [a year ago] held the relevant claim of the patent to be invalid," a company spokesperson was quoted by Bloomberg as saying.
German patents commentator Florian Mueller suggested in a blog post on Friday that the Federal Patent Court ruling did not count for now as both parties appealed it. He said HTC's real motivation for dropping the appeal might have been to avoid a substantive judicial decision on two related patents that IPCom dropped into the suit after the original judgement had come out.
"By withdrawing the appeal, HTC avoided a formal decision on those two additional patents. As a result, if IPCom wanted to enforce those, it would have to go back to a first-instance court for that purpose," Mueller said.
Apart from saying it would seek to enforce the HTC injunction as soon as possible, IPCom said it hoped to see a similar result in its German case against Nokia.
"These cases are being handled by the same court, under the same judge, and concern the same standard-essential patents — divisionals of which have already been decided in IPCom's favour in other jurisdictions, such as the UK," the company said. "IPCom hopes that Nokia will swiftly recognise that it, too, needs to come to terms with IPCom if it is not to suffer the same fate as HTC."