The US ITC finally rules on the Apple and HTC patent case, and makes a politically correct compromise judgement, which just means that the patent action will drag on well into 2012. Guy Daniels reports.
After months of deliberation and a hefty legal bill for the lawyers, the US International Trade Commission has finally ruled on the patent infringement case brought by Apple against HTC. Apple claimed that some of HTC’s products infringed four US patents granted to Apple, and therefore the ITC should block sales and importation of the goods.
In July, the administrative judge issued a preliminary ruling on the case, saying that HTC had violated two of the four patents (it gets complicated, as there are numerous separate claims against each of the patents – 14 in all). Both parties then filed for a review, and on Monday the ITC made it’s final decision: HTC has violated just two claims against one patent (Claims 1 and 8 against U.S. Patent No. 5,946,647 for the train spotters amongst us) – it reversed the other decisions.
HTC’s punishment – or as the ITC puts it, “the appropriate remedy” – is a limited exclusion order against the infringing products, with effect from April 19 next year, to give service providers time to replace their stocks.
So at first glance this looks like a victory for HTC. Indeed, Grace Lei, general counsel of HTC, said in a statement:
“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.
We are very pleased with the determination and we respect it. However, the ‘647 patent is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon.”
Another HTC spokesperson went further, telling the BGR blog that: “Our designers have created alternate solutions for the ‘647 patent.”
The patent in question, which HTC casually dismisses as all but irrelevant, was granted to Apple in August 1999 and describes a method for a computer program to fetch information from another application and present it in a user interface. Venture Beat interprets the patent as dealing with “software that turns phone numbers and addresses into actionable links”. Suddenly, not so irrelevant…
But although the numbers stack up favourably for HTC – two full reversals and two partial reversals out of four – the fact is that it’s Apple who has won a practical victory, in that it has managed to disrupt HTC’s manufacturing and sales efforts in the US market.
It’s another warning sign of the frailty of the Android OS. Yes, Google just needs to work on an update that gets round the patent in question (probably easier said than done, but we have faith in their development team). But then again, Apple just needs to use this judgement against other Android manufacturers, prolonging the whole messy situation and giving Apple more time to develop its next product (iPhone 5 anyone?).
So really, both sides came away with something. It could be said that the ITC fudged the judgement, not wanting to escalate this particularly sensitive case. Apple gets a ban, HTC gets time to redesign its phones. Keep calm and carry on.
Meanwhile, Apple is embroiled in a legal dispute in the Delaware federal court with HTC over the same patents. Unlike the ITC, this eventual ruling will doubtless have a financial penalty/reward attached to it, and could be of greater long-term significance. Don’t expect the ruling to follow the same logic as that of the ITC. As far as the ITC is concerned though:
“The investigation is terminated.”
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