U.S. ITC backs Apple in patent ruling against HTC that hits Google

“A federal agency ruled on Monday that a set of important features commonly found in smartphones are protected by an Apple patent, a decision that could force changes in how Google’s Android phones function,” Nick Wingfield reports for The New York Times. “The ruling, by the United States International Trade Commission, is one of the most significant so far in a growing array of closely watched patent battles being waged around the globe by nearly all of the major players in the mobile industry.”

“At the heart of the disputes are the kind of small but convenient features that would cause many people to complain if they were not in their smartphones. For example, the case decided Monday involves the technology that lets you tap your finger once on the touch screen to call a phone number that is written inside an e-mail or text message,” Wingfield reports. “It also involves the technology that allows you to schedule a calendar appointment, again with a single tap of the finger, for a date mentioned in an e-mail.”

“HTC, the defendant in the case and a Taiwan-based mobile phone maker using the Android system, said in a statement after the ruling that it would adapt its features to comply with the court’s decision,” WIngfield reports. “The decision could potentially affect far more phones than those made by HTC because the underlying target of the suit is Google, creator of the Android system that now powers more than half of all smartphones sold worldwide.”

“The ruling by the six-member commission, which can take action against unfair trade practices by companies whose products are imported into the United States, will prevent HTC from selling phones in the United States that infringe the patent starting April 19,” Wingfield reports. “To take effect, President Obama’s trade representative must sign the order. He could decide to overrule the commission’s finding, though such actions are rare. It also can be appealed.”

Read more in the full article here.

Clare Jim and Poornima Gupta report for Reuters, “‘It’s a limited victory for [Apple for] a variety of reasons,’ said Peter Toren, an intellectual property litigator and partner with the Shulman Rogers law firm in the United States. He said the ruling does not stop HTC from importing as many phones as it likes until April.’It gives HTC plenty of time to implement a design-around, which I understand they are already working on,’ he said. ‘The order does in fact take effect in April, but the practical impact won’t be felt for some months after that.'”

“HTC said on Monday the ruling was a win for it and added that it planned to completely remove technology linked to the patent from its phones,” Jim and Gupta report. “The company called the technology a ‘small user-interface experience.’ Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu said of the ruling: ‘We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.'”

Read more in the full article here.

Florian Mueller writes for FOSS Patents, “This ruling falls far short of anything would force HTC out of the U.S. market in the near term. Also, out of ten 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.”

“That said, Apple has made some progress,” Mueller writes. “It now has one patent that it can also assert against other Android device makers unless the data tapping feature can be implemented in non-infringing ways, in which case there wouldn’t even be a point in suing other Android device makers over it.”

Mueller writes, “Apple needs to find several more patents of the ‘data tapping’ kind — or, alternatively, one or two fundamental patents for which there’s no viable workaround — in order to really have competitive impact with its many litigations targeting Android. It’s a starting point, and let’s not forget that this is just the first of dozens of lawsuits Apple has already brought against the Android platform. There’s a learning curve involved with anything, and patents need to be battle-tested. Chances are that Apple’s lawsuits will become more effective.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Don’t steal IP.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Jay in DC” and “NuBee” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
HTC told to halt sales of 3G devices in Germany – November 29, 2011
Steve Jobs: ‘I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product; I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this’ – October 20, 2011
Obama could overrule ITC if it seeks to block Android devices due to patent infringement – September 2, 2011


  1. It’s a start at least. Everything patent related is just really screwed up and messy. There’s no defined lines with just about everything being shades of grey, at least in the judges’ eyes.
    It certaintly makes for good entertainment! 🙂

    1. Totally agree with you there. Its time to bury the relic. It fails to protect innovators and it allows small vulture operations to make a killing in “licenses” without really inventing anything.

      Its jumped the shark

  2. I’m all for Apple. But I hate the idea of a patent on tapping a piece of data to invoke an action. It just seems stupid and counterproductive to allow anyone to stifle competition in that manner, by Apple or any other company. I felt the same way about ‘one-click purchasing’ and most other software patents that have been publicly litigated.

    1. I’m not inclined to agree, and it’s a very dangerous president to set for America to allow Asian companies to cheaply clone our designs and innovations.

      America’s one single strength above most of the rest of the world is in the area of innovation and invention. Allowing this to be cheaply copied and profited on by HTC and Samsung who originated none of the original innovation is a death toll for invention in this country and a serious threat to our economy and way of life.

  3. Remember that the ITC is not a court that solely accesses evidence for and agsinst IP infringement, then makes a determination. Rather it is a federal agency, headed by six commissioners selected politically (3 from each party) from trade law experts (not IP law). In overruling the prior decision by the administrative law judge wholly in Apple’s favor these commisioners appear to have been striving for a political compromise of some sort, reflecting the larger trade issues involved. In short the disallowed patent may well have legal force in a less political courtroom setting.

  4. I still don’t understand. Look how “smart phones” were before the iphone and after the iphone. Android obviously copied more than just one patent. How come this people said HTC only infringe in one patent?

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