The increasingly dirty business of building and selling smartphones has hit a new low with the news that US Customs is (knowingly or not) giving Apple an assist by holding up big shipments of HTC smarties for a mass pat-down. By Ian Scales.
HTC has been hit hard in the share-price with news that shipments of its HTC One X and HTC EVO 4G LTE to the US have been delayed due to a 'standard' US Customs review of its shipments.
HTC, the original Android champion, has been struggling to get back into the US market after a bad year when its models just didn't sell (Samsung's phones did instead).
Now the news of a customs holdup for new models designed to get its sales back on course in the US market have sent its share price down by five per cent.
Observers say the hold-up is standard practice because US Customs always undertakes shipment inspections following an ITC (International Trade Commission) exclusion order. HTC was put on the receiving end of one of those in December when it lost one of the many intellectual property lawsuits currently flying around on Planet Smartphone.
In this case, Apple tripped HTC up over its alleged use of one of the Cupertino company's troll patents in its Android messaging app and browser: the catchingly entitled #5,946,647, which covers the automatic conversion of IDs (numbers or email addresses) into actionable links which then open up a menu of options. Yeah... isn't science wonderful?
The International Trade Commission found against HTC in December last year and the Taiwanese company undertook to remove the offending code from its devices by April 19th this year, thus giving it time to get around the offending functions.
That time has come and the customs inspections are in place to ensure that HTC has complied with the Trade Commission's order.
In reality, of course, there must be more effective and less expensive ways ensure a product complies than to hold it up and inspect it as if it was a busload of tourists returning with contraband - the suspicion is that the customs two-step is just a disguised punishment after the fact.
To make matters just that little bit worse, US Customs is not obliged to be helpful to HTC in any way (and nobody who has been through US Customs and Immigration will find that at all hard to believe). Observers say there are no formal rules governing the way these exclusion orders are to be enforced and just what internal instructions are given to who to do what, are 'classified'. They are not even subject to freedom of information requests, no doubt because of "security" which is code for letting the authorities do what they want.
So HTC is essentially powerless and facing an open-ended hold-up.
However it is keeping its dignity and playing it cool - best not to enrage the beast and make things worse. "The US availability of the HTC One X and HTC EVO 4G LTE has been delayed due to a standard U.S. Customs review of shipments that is required after an ITC exclusion order," says the HTC official statement.
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