Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

ITC Ruling Seen as a Victory for Apple, but a Narrow One

While an International Trade Commission ruling on Monday that HTC infringes on an Apple patent is certainly a positive outcome for Apple, outsiders note that it is a narrow victory at best.

First, the commission tossed out a second finding of patent infringement by the Taiwanese cellphone maker, and narrowed its ruling on the patent on which it did find infringement.

Second, it stayed its ruling for a longer-than-standard 120 days to give carriers time to prepare, a move that also gives HTC more time to implement and gain approval for any workarounds. The import ban would not go into effect until April, the ITC said as part of its ruling.

In a posting on his FOSS Patents blog, Florian Mueller noted that the patent in question is limited to HTC’s Android phones which use one of two claims on a patent, related to the way that phones highlight certain text within an email or other unstructured data — allowing, say, a phone number to be dialed.

“The import ban won’t relate to HTC Android products that don’t implement that feature, or that implement it in ways not covered by those patent claims,” Mueller wrote. “If Google can implement this popular feature, which users of modern-day smartphones really expect, without infringing on the two patent claims found infringed, this import ban won’t have any effect whatsoever. Otherwise HTC will have to remove this feature, which would put HTC at a competitive disadvantage as compared to other smartphone makers, including other Android device makers.”

HTC said in a statement to AllThingsD that it is confident in the options it has at its disposal.

“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,” HTC said. (Update: HTC said late Monday that the feature in question “is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon.”)

White & Case attorney Bijal Vakil said he sees Monday’s ruling as just one step in a very long litigation process around how patents play into the smartphone business.

“I don’t see today’s ruling as a game changer,” said Vakil, a partner in White & Case’s Silicon Valley office. He added that one or both parties can appeal the case to a federal court, and that HTC could also seek a further stay of the ruling, pending that appeal.

Also of note, of course, is the fact that the patent in question relates to how Android works; so, while the ruling is limited to HTC devices, the case is being closely watched by others, including key Android device makers and Google itself.

Nor is this the only case. Microsoft is suing Motorola and Barnes & Noble over Android-related claims, while Oracle is suing Google directly, to name just a few of the current cases on the docket.

“Because the market for these devices is increasing, I don’t see this trend ending anytime soon,” Vakil said.

However, sorting out these claims could be very time-consuming for the courts and the companies.

“The average smartphone could potential read on tens of thousands of patents,” Vakil said. If companies were to try to review all of the possible patent implications of a product, nothing would come to market.


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