Android Phones

HTC suffers setback in Apple patent case, but the battle isn’t over

July 18, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka



Apple has secured a preliminary ruling from the ITC that HTC’s Android phones violate 2 of 10 patents that Apple alleges HTC willingly infringes. But before you go into flame war mode and curse Apple for trying to destroy Android, calm down and realize that there’s still a lot going on.

Let’s first get the facts on the situation. As AllThingsD reported on Friday, the ITC delivered a preliminary determination that HTC violates two system-based patents:
- “system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer”
- “real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data.”

Aside from being so incredibly generic and vague that Apple could probably assert these claims on most devices, this is an initial determination, meaning it’s not a final ruling. The final word will not come until the US International Trade Commission reviews the case and makes its decision, sometime in November/December 2011. FossPatents notes that these cases go back-and-forth in favor of litigants, and the ITC staff recommended that none of the alleged infringements were valid. Anything can still happen.

A few websites have written that this could threaten a ban on all Android devices in December because the alleged patent violation are at the “core” of Android. To put it simply, if HTC is guilty of violations, then so are Motorola, Samsung, Toshiba, and anyone else releasing Android devices. The problem with this narrative is that it’s hyperbolic and even the originator of these claims (FossPatents) says that’s a worst-case scenario.

The patents in question were actually filed before anyone had ever seen a smartphone, so this is about more than just Android. The ITC has the power to ban imports, but just because HTC is found to violate a patent doesn’t mean that it will. It also doesn’t mean that all the other manufacturers are also guilty. (Apple is involved in a similar suit with Motorola.) The ITC could simply make HTC pay damages and force the two companies to agree to a licensing deal. HTC has even said that it’s confident that if the ITC rules it violates Apple’s patents, it can alter its computing structure to get around the violations.

So to recap

  • This ruling is not final and there are many ways that this can go. The ITC could dismiss all allegations or only validate a couple.
  • If HTC is found to violate the patents, they believe they can make changes in order to be in compliance
  • Just because HTC violates the patents does not necessarily mean all Android phone makers do and they will not be bound to this ruling. It would, however, be a bad sign and could open up the door for more patent battles.
  • The sky is not falling after all.

That means you really shouldn’t be too concerned just yet. If the ITC rules in Apple’s favor, HTC will have to reach some licensing deal or make changes. Until then, take a breath and wait until there’s some finality. If you have a couple hours and want to read up more, be sure to check out commentary on this issue from ThisIsMy Next and FossPatents’ chart about all of the patents Android supposedly violates.