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HTC and Nokia score legal win against Apple

ITC lawyer recommends that the two majors did not infringe patents, judgement likely to be confirmed


Published: 20 April, 2011

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

Just as Apple adds Samsung to its list of lawsuits, it has suffered a setback at the US International Trade Commission, which says Nokia and HTC did not infringe Apple patents. A lawyer at the ITC has made the recommendation, which is highly likely to be adopted by the full body when it reaches its final verdict in early August.

Apple has been seeking to block imports of both Nokia and HTC smartphones to the US, as part of broader legal battles with the Finnish giant, and a wider attack on the Android community - also involving Motorola and now Samsung. This case is only one of several against Nokia.

The staff lawyer's recommendation is not binding, but it would be extremely unusual for the final verdict to overturn it, said ITC sources. Last month, the ITC ruled against Apple in a separate complaint against Nokia.

The HTC ruling is particularly important because it is likely to have implications for the whole Android base. Apple claims the Taiwanese vendor infringes five patents that are vital for "seamless integration of hardware and software". Some, related to signal processing and inter-process communications, date from the early 1990s and "were, at best, a very narrow distinction" from the inventions of others, HTC lawyer Robert Van Nest told ITC judge. "HTC is a smartphone innovator and pioneer in the smartphone sphere. They were there long before Apple," he said. "The fundamental differences from the Apple patents represent choices made by HTC and Google."

One of the signal processing patents involved in the HTC suit is also cited in a complaint against Nokia, and this was spun off from the wider ITC suit against the Finn, which should be decided by June 24. Nokia lawyer Pat Flinn, of Alston & Bird, accused Apple of "dredging up patents" when it was approached for royalties by mobile pioneers like Ericsson and Nokia itself, according to Bloomberg. "Advances in technology have made the patent moot," Flinn said of the signal processing IPR.

HTC and Nokia have their own countersuits against Apple and Nokia has also sued over fundamental wireless patents for which it claims the iPhone maker does not pay royalties, even though most of the handset industry does. HTC's counterclaims will be heard from May 9.

Meanwhile, Samsung has responded to Apple's patent lawsuit against its Galaxy product range. "Samsung will respond actively to this legal action taken against us through appropriate legal measures to protect our intellectual property," was the official statement, but Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted executives saying that, in fact, it was Apple which violated Samsung IPR. One commented: "Apple is one of our key buyers of semiconductors and display panels. However, we have no choice but respond strongly this time." In fact, Apple was Samsung's second largest customer in 2010, accounting for 4% of its total revenue of $142bn. Apple may have been trying to reduce its dependence on the firm, but it will not be able to avoid it, given the shortages of touchscreens and memory chips.

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