Apple wins initial patent victory against HTC

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The U.S. International Trade Commission has ruled that Android manufacturer HTC has infringed on two Apple patents, handing the iPhone maker an early victory that could have large implications on HTC’s business in the U.S. in the worst case scenario and potential impacts on the overall Android platform. The ruling issued today by an ITC administrative law judge is an initial determination and is being appealed to the ITC’s six commissioners, HTC said in a statement.

The judgement could lead to a ban of the sale of HTC products in the U.S. if it’s upheld or if HTC is unable to find a way to work around the disputed intellectual property. Or HTC could seek a settlement from Apple — that is, if Apple is willing to provide a license. If Apple does license the IP, it will force HTC to pay more royalties for its use of Android, on top of licensing fees it is paying Microsoft for every Android device it makes.

Apple’s win could deal an even tougher blow to the Android platform because one or both of the patents in the dispute appear to be based on software built into the core of the Android operating system, said Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents. He said they are also at issue in the Apple’s case against Motorola. That could lead to more headaches for other Android manufacturers, who could face similar suits from Apple and the threat of an ITC ban of their products.

The latest ruling comes from Apple’s initial complaint, which the ITC staff had recommended against. But the case has turned around for Apple, which also filed a new case against HTC with the ITC this week on five additional patents that were not part of Friday’s ruling. HTC might have bought some defense for itself by recently acquiring S3 Graphics. The ITC previously determined that Apple infringes on patents owned by S3.

Android continues to be a world beater and is now being activated on 550,000 devices a day, according to Google. But it is increasingly under siege by Apple, Oracle and Microsoft. Oracle is directly suing Google for alleged infringement of its Java patents while Apple has sued Android manufacturers. Microsoft, meanwhile, has lined up licensing deals with manufacturers and seems intent on milking Android’s success.

It’s unlikely that any one action can undo the success of Android but there are growing concerns about the price manufacturers will have to pay for supporting the platform, which is ostensibly free. If Apple can get a ban of Android products in the U.S. or force Google to engage in severe workarounds that hobble the platform, however, it could overturn a lot of the success of Android. Again, there is a lot that still needs to happen but this is another bad sign for Android.

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