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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