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Apple sues HTC, possibly spearheading broader assault on Android

Apple goes on the offensive claiming infringement of 20 iPhone patents in HTC's Android and WinMo devices


Published: 3 March, 2010

READ MORE: US | Apple | HTC | Patents/IPR | iPhone | Android

As Apple sees the unique position of the iPhone being eroded from all sides, it has gone on the offensive, engaging in legal battles with Nokia and now the flagship Android vendor, HTC. Apple is suing the Taiwanese manufacturer, alleging it has infringed on 20 patents related to the " iPhone's user interface, underlying architecture and hardware".

The lawsuits have been filed in a court in Delaware and before the US International Trade Commission (ITC), mirroring the battles with Nokia. CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement: "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours." As well as Apple's suits, the ITC is also considering smartphone related complaints by Motorola against RIM and Eastman Kodak against RIM and Apple, reflecting the new intensity of competition in the space - always a trigger for the patent lawyers.

Of course, HTC is in a very different position to Nokia. It is unclear whether it has significant patents of its own, with which to trade with Apple, or countersue, whereas the Finnish giant has huge arsenals including essential IPR in GSM and 3G - the basis of some of its counter-attacks against the iPhone maker. By picking on HTC rather than a more patent-loaded Android player like Samsung or even Motorola, Apple may be selecting what it perceives to be an easy target - or testing the waters before going after a broader range of smartphone rivals. Clearly, the real target is Google - harder to pursue directly with patent suits where Android is concerned, but the major loser should Apple's attacks lead to any loss of commitment to its platform by key vendors.

Although HTC is a hardware vendor most of the listed patents relate to software, including touchscreen management, user interface and gesture control. HTC has been working hard on its applauded UI overlay, Sense, but presumably Apple's real bullseye would be to find some of its code in Android itself, rather than a single vendor's UI. However, differentiated user experiences like Sense are arguably the key reason why Android will threaten the iPhone, rather than the vanilla system itself, whose UI is inferior to Apple's. And the Apple complaint mentions the HTC HD2, a Windows Mobile handset running Sense, so the suit may not be confined to Android.

An HTC spokesperson said in a statement that the company "has been very focused over the past 13 years on creating many of the most innovative smartphones ... HTC values patent rights and their enforcement but is also committed to defending its own technology innovations." She added that it was too early to comment in detail on the allegations.

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