32 Comments

Summary:

After years of wondering how similar functions to Apple’s iPhone might be legally interpreted, Apple today filed a lawsuit against HTC, maker of the most Android handsets. Apple alleges that HTC is infringing on 20 iPhone patents. Could this suit shake up the Android market?

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Updated: I’ve been wondering if and when it might happen and today’s the day — this morning I received notification that Apple is suing HTC for “infringing on 20 Apple patents related to the iPhone’s user interface, underlying architecture and hardware.” Apple filed the lawsuit with both the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the U.S. District Court in Delaware, which makes sense as HTC is a non-U.S. company. I’ve requested specific information from Apple on which specific patents are allegedly in question, but haven’t received a response as of this writing. I’ll put feelers out with HTC as well, but it could take the company some time to sift through the paperwork. My own digging on the USITC electronic document site came up blank.

Without knowing what patents are in question, all we know is that Apple filed a suit. Well, we know what Steve Jobs officially said, as well. You’ll sense a recurring theme as this isn’t the first I’ve heard this quote.

“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,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

Now that Android growth is really humming, the suit seems as much about Google than it does about HTC from where I stand. Google doesn’t make Android phones, but HTC does — it offers the largest array of Android handsets over any other phone maker. Going after HTC in this case is a roundabout way to go after Google. And HTC has often added iPhone-like features and functions to Android devices on their own, especially the ones that aren’t branded as “with Google,” making this suit a 2-for-1 special. Of course, I’m speculating on both of these points, but there’s a compelling argument to be made. Google is catching up to Apple in the smartphone market, due largely to HTC. While the suit could point out some HTC activities with their Windows Mobile devices, I think HTC and Google are squarely in the bullseye for this one.

Update:

All Things Digital found what I couldn’t — the filed lawsuit on the USITC site. I’ve scanned the documents and two specific bit jump out at me:

“19. Certain HTC products imported into the United States comprise, include, or contain software based on an operating system known as “Android.” The products are referred to herein as the “Accused HTC Android Products.” Exemplary Accused HTC Android Products include the HTC Nexus One, the HTC Dream, which is sold commercially as the T-Mobile G1, the HTC Magic, which is sold commercially as the HTC myTouch 3G, the HTC Hero and the HTC Droid Eris.

20. Additional HTC products imported (or that HTC intends to import) into the United States include digital signal processing functionality. These products are referred to herein as the “Accused HTC DSP Products.” Exemplary HTC DSP Products include the HTC Touch Pro, the HTC Touch Diamond, the HTC Touch Pro2, the HTC Tilt II, the HTC Pure, the HTC HD2, and the HTC Imagio.”

Nearly all of the alleged infringements deal with interface activities and software functionality — items like remote access, using background processes and unlocking a phone through a gesture. Only the one DSP issue stems from the non-Android devices, so for all intents and purposes, this suit is squarely targeting the Google Android operating system used with HTC devices.

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  1. James Kendrick Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    This also puts a big damper on the new Windows Phone 7 front as well. Very big implications are possible with this one.

    1. Yep, if I was Microsoft i would be afraid very afraid. Kudos to Apple for defending their turf. I am sure Google now sees their worst nightmare happening before their eyes. This could get nasty real quick. Apple lawyers are now free to purchase those additional houses, boats, cars and other goodies they’ve been wanting to pull the trigger on.

    2. I guarantee this will be the start of antitrust claims against Apple if they try to push these patents very hard. Most are pretty obvious, and several are even trumped by prior example.

      If their patents are considered valid, it will effectively grant Apple a monopoly in smartphone technology though, and then bullying competition around will be a violation of that monopoly status.

      In any case, I think Apple is messing with fire. Neither Google nor Microsoft is likely to tolerate it, and if they team up on Apple, it’s gonna get ugly.

      1. You have a valid point but I think right now, it is MS people should watch. In the Apple v.s. Google case, MS might decide to side with Apple since Apple is not really a threatening competitor to MS(Compared to Google). Remembering the roumors few weeks ago that Apple might consider Bing instead of Google and ATT putting Yahoo on its Android phone, the plot might get ticken soon. Also MS is said to be behind the EU vs Google antitrust issue.

  2. Desperation seems to have taken over Apple. If you can’t beat them, sue them.

    This we will see how does patent-troll blocking club HTC is part of will work as well.

    More info here:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/17/intel_joins_rpx_35_members/

    With the amount of generic patents apple filed in the last few years,this could be an opprtunuty to get them tested and invalidated. Hopefully it wil work out for better.

  3. And I think it proves Palm/webOS is irrelevant. Go after the BIG fish. Assume MS and Google will join HTC’s defense. As I can’t imagine the patents are all hardware based…

    1. nice to go out of your way & look foolish all because you dislike a corporation? very odd behavior.

      what it actually proves is that Palm has multiple patents that precede many of Apples products. Palm never took any action defending their own patents so Apple leaves them out of lawsuits in order to prevent a quite Palm from becoming litigious.

      1. Kevin C. Tofel Bren Tuesday, March 2, 2010

        Actually, it’s “very odd behavior” to keep leaving comments under different identities as you did with this one, the one prior on another post and many others here.

        What it actually proves is that you’re willing to dish out sniping commentary but not willing to stand behind your statements with your own name. ;)

      2. Actually, I like Palm and wish them the best. I’m quite sad they can’t figure out how to more quickly evolve webOS and move handsets. Lack of marketshare makes them irrelevant.

        Regarding my like/dislike of the company, I had several friends with the Palm III, although my first was the V, which I traveled with… and a clip on dialup modem. It’s on my list of all-time top gadgets. I’ve owned various other Palm devices over the years, and my favorite Windows Mobile phone in the day the Treo 750 (engineered by HTC…).

        I also spent a month living with Kevin’s Pre. I never wrote it up, but my headline was ‘Out with the old, in with the quirky.’ webOS and I just got off to a really bad start given the several minute boot sequence, unfinished OS, and screen that won’t turn off when sitting on the Touchstone. Maybe version 2.0 and some less plasticy hardware will help them. Can we hope for a summer unveil?

        But yeah, as of today, they are irrelevant in the mobile space other than as a takeover target. Maybe the new Verizon advertising will help.

      3. I also anticipate sometime after their earnings call a round of layoffs. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m pessimistic. We shall see.

  4. Wow 20 patents violated, that a lot for a little phone. So what does HTC really stand for. Humongous Thievery Corporation. Looks like Apple decided it time to spank their monkey hard.

    1. this is aimed at the OS not the manufacturer, and most of Apples patents are vague and generic, it wont fly. And Apple stole the names iPhone and iPad anyway

      1. But Apple was granted the patents and lawyers eat “vague and generic” for lunch.

        You’re making a mistake that many are making: that the lawsuit is about the validity of the patents. It’s not. It’s about whether or not HTC violated patents that Apple was legally granted. On the surface HTC appears to have done so.

        HTC, Microsoft, or Google could chose to separately challenge the validity of the patents. However, there’s a good reason they might not. Doing so could put their “vague and generic” patents under scrunity.

        The real problem here is the current patent and copyright system.

  5. Mr. Jobs is quite proving his own arrogance. He’s basically saying, “If Apple is losing market share, something shady must be going on. I mean, cmon, like Apple is just the best. Nuff said.” Actually, I think this is exactly the message Jobs wants to get out. It’s more than just thwarting the main hardware producer of Apple’s two biggest competitors to squelch business, it’s a pointed message that says: “everything cool about these phones is a copy of our product. We started it all.” Truth is, Apple has never invented. They’ve reworked, amped, and even improved on existing ideas and products. What Jobs wants to do now is prove that Apple invented. Instead of trying to step up his products from what’s currently on the market, he wants to lay claim to the best of the market as being his own.

    In more recent news, Jobs is suing Bono of U2. “He’s cool. Cool is something Apple invented, and he’s not going to steal it from us, that Irish git.”

    1. That would make sense is Apple was actually losing market share. In reality, Apple has been gaining market share since the iPhone was introduced and is projected to continue gaining market share.

      1. Kevin C. Tofel Sulla Tuesday, March 2, 2010

        Click the link I put in the post about Android growth. Both Apple and Google are building market share, but Google is growing at a faster rate.

      2. Yes, Apple is effectively losing out on a lot of potential market share. For the first time in years it’s no longer sitting on the Easy Train. It seems that having to respond to serious market competition has become unfamiliar to the company. This swashbuckling lawsuit reaction just proves that Jobs no longer knows how to actually participate in a truly competitive market. No longer sitting pretty on the high horse in unquestioned authority has got him in a state of major PMS.

  6. Eh, we’ll see how things turn out (eventually). I’d bet there is a lot more glitter here than gold. Also, whatever happened to great artists steal?

  7. It did not seem to be a problem for Apple when they copied Creative’s menuing system for the ipod. In court they eventually had to pay up. If this does come to court it would be great to see Apple lose. I think if Apple are trying to say that no one can produce a competing phone which uses a touch screen and has applications then this might be something for the anti trust people to look at.

  8. I wonder if Motorola is next.

  9. This is hilarious. Actually, it all comes down to just 2 words – market share. HTC was making touchscreen handsets long before Apple ever released their iPhone. Apple didn’t even invent the PPC, nor were they the first to match a PPC with phone functionality.

    DSP technology? Give me a break! That’s been around since the 80’s. Doesn’t Apple want to sue MS and other manufacturers for using it?

    I’m hoping HTC stands their ground, simply because I do not believe Apple has a case. More than anything, I think the recent announcement of WP7 along with the strong position HTC has gained as a manufacturer for both WM and Android handsets has given Apple a serious scare. Reaction – sue!

    Users are flocking to platforms other than the iPhone now and serious listeners are ditching Apple’s mp3 player in favor of the ZuneHD. That is competition, but loosing market share alone is not an excuse for a lawsuit. I would like to see what “technology” Steve Jobs is referring to.

    With the iPad announcement, what is Apple going to concoct up next? Sue every slate PC maker because they’re a slate PC maker?

    I’m no Apple hater, but if you look up the word loser in the dictionary, you might find Steve Job’s face there. He needs to get on with life.

    1. “Users are flocking to platforms other than the iPhone now and serious listeners are ditching Apple’s mp3 player in favor of the ZuneHD.”

      This is simply not true. Are you able to provide any statistics showing the iPhone losing market share and the iPod losing any significant market share to the Zune HD?

      1. GoodThings2Life Sulla Tuesday, March 2, 2010

        Agreed. I love my ZuneHD but no way is it “significantly” gaining market-share … for now.

        However, I have seen statistics to suggest iPhone support is waning in favor of Android and alternatives.

  10. Jahan Khan Rashid Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    I cant keep col about this anymore, for some reason i want to see Apple suffer!! I think its because i get the impression that they are being big headed/cocky all the time. They are probably treading on more patents if MS/Google/HTC etc got their heads together, i really hope it backfires on Apple.
    That was a very Bold comment by Jobs if it was from him.

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