ITC sides with Apple, finds HTC guilty, bans some HTC phones

Remember that legal battle over patents Apple has with, um, everyone? Yeah, well, Apple 1, HTC 0.

Yesterday the U.S. International Trade Commission passed final judgement on the matter of Apple’s complaint that HTC devices were violating Apple patents. The ITC ruled HTC did indeed violate Apple’s ‘647 patent — the one dealing with formatting of data in unstructured documents to pass data to programs for processing. (An example of this is clicking on a phone number in a e-mail to call someone.) This ruling means a ban (in the USA) on sale and import of all HTC devices that violate Apple’s ‘647 patent; HTC is allowed to import refurbished devices to service warranties and contracts.

Apple claimed HTC violated ten Apple patents but the ITC found HTC guilty of violating only one patent; and ‘647 isn’t regarded as a major patent since it isn’t concerning a critical device-breaking feature. Plus the ITC has given HTC until April 19, 2012 to remove the violating features from their devices — the ban won’t go into effect until that date. So HTC is shruging this off as a “win”:

This decision is a win for HTC and 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. The ‘647 patent is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon.

Independent industry patent experts, such as Florian Mueller from FOSS Patents, seem to agree this ITC ruling in favor of Apple is hardly a knock-out blow for HTC (and by association, Android). Nevertheless, Apple now has one sure-fire, court-tested, battle-worn patent it can use against Android, assuming other manufacturers format data in unstructured documents the same way as HTC; and assuming Google doesn’t come up with a way to implement the feature in question without violating Apple’s ‘647.

Feel free to discuss in the comments below. Flaming is allowed.

[via Engadget, FOSS Patents, ITC Ruling Announcement Document]

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8 comments

  1. Anonymail

    I think Apple was conducting what some lawyers call a “Looksee” Sue one entity instead of all of them and see what the outcome is. Then they can decide who else to sue, and if it is worth their time, without spending tons of money suing them all for all the supposed violations.
    I am no fan of some of the ridiculous patents out there and I strongly believe there needs to be reforms. Case in point, a very highly respected charity for breast cancer has a patent on “for the cure” so you can’t do or have any kind of charity event and have that in the name or slogan. Now is that greedy of a charity? I say yes! Anything done for breast cancer research is good thing, but that makes that particular one seem very greedy and makes me not want to give them my money.
    Same goes for the I-guys. Fan boys can yell at me all they want to, I don’t like their products and I refuse to use them. That is really all the recompense we have a consumers, our dollars.
    And I guess I’ll put that new HTC on hold , maybe I’ll get a Samsung instead.

  2. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Samuel: Nice – grats! How do you like it?

    Thanks for that info! I didn’t come across it — just posted it now. BTW what is your score on that one? Motorola was found to violate 1 patent but also found to not violate 6 others.

  3. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Ed: HTC is only getting hit by this in this specific case because Apple chose to sue HTC. It is up to Apple who they want to sue. Apple may, in the future, sue other manufacturers using this patent.

    Also, it may be that other manufacturers have implemented this feature in a different way but I believe its a standard Android feature (like you mentioned) so I doubt it. It simply that Apple decided to sue HTC for this particular patent.

    @Samuel: There you are. Been wondering where you have been :-P

    Are you trying to say the score should be Apple 0 HTC 1? I can see a case for that seeing as most of the major patent claims by Apple were rejected by ITC. On the flip side, however, HTC is the one who has to modify their phones — not Apple. So, in my book, win for Apple.

  4. Ed

    I don’t understand. Why is only HTC getting hit with this? On every Android I have seen you can click on a phone number, whether in browser, email, or wherever, and it will call that number. I don’t know if all the other manufacturers already found a way around it and HTC was the only company that decided to copy the method even though they all had the feature. My phone (AT&T Samsung Galaxy S Captivate) did it on 2.2, did it when updated to 2.3, does it on CM7, my friends phone does it (though his might be an HTC), etc. I am just confused as to why HTC is taking all the heat even though, as far as I am aware, this is a standard Android feature, not an HTC thing.

  5. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @NAVEED: Some people may argue patents in general stifle creativity and are detrimental to everyone except the patent holder. Not saying I agree — just saying there is a case against patents in general.

    That said, popular consumer consensus appears to be that the current US patent system is broken. Unfortunately, companies must play with the hands they have. And Apple has the largest hand at the moment.