Trade Body Says HTC Violates Apple Patent, Some Imports Banned

A federal agency ruled on Monday that certain features commonly implied into smartphones are under an Apple patent, the ruling could force changes in Google’s Android phones function.

HTC said it would soon remove an infringing feature from its smartphones. Above, a lucky owner plays with the Sensation XL smartphone from HTC. Photo: Android Feeling/Flickr

The decision of the United States International Trade Commission can cause significant changes in a growing array of patent fights between some of the major players in the mobile industry. These battles by their turn, reflect the heated challenge among the companies, especially as Android phones gain market share.

So, the U.S. International Trade Commission on Monday said that Taiwanese cellular corporation HTC is infringing an Apple patent, and banned import on some of the company’s products.

The commission found that HTC violated devices on two claims related to an Apple patent. The ban won’t start until April, as the agency decided to give time for carriers to make transition plans and for HTC to prove it has avoided infringement (by working around the patent, dropping infringing features or some other means).

“Notice is hereby given that the U.S. International Trade Commission has found a violation of section 337 in this investigation and has issued a limited exclusion order prohibiting importation of infringing personal data and mobile communications devices and related software,” the agency said. “The Commission has determined that exclusion of articles subject to this order shall commence on April 19, 2012.”

By the way, HTC will be able to import some redesigned products to satisfy repair claims on already sold products, but will not be able to bring new products into the country after April 19.

“While disappointed that a finding of violation was still found on two claims of the ’647 patent, we are well prepared for this decision, and our designers have created alternate solutions for the ’647 patent,” HTC said in a statement.

Apple refused to comment directly on Monday’s ruling, just noticing that “we think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

According to Nielsen, Apple has with 28.6% of the US consumer smartphone subscribers during last three months, eclipsing HTC, which has just over 20%. However, Android devices, using email, maps and other features from Apple rival Google, have a greater share of the U.S. smartphone software market than the iPhone.

The ruling could potentially affect more HTC pones because the underlying target of the suit is Google. Apple also has several processes with other makers of Android devices, such as Microsoft, and companies that make Android products are returning the favor in most instances through countersuits.

 “It’s an important victory for Apple, but it’s just one of many battles,” said Alexander Poltorak, chief executive of the General Patent Corporation, adding that the ruling will force other Android phone makers to license the technology from Apple or try to avoid patent infringement issues.

Steven P. Jobs revealed in his biography that his aim is Google as it had copied many of the iPhone’s features, so he was going to “destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product.”

However, Android phones have achieved a bigger share of the smartphone market during the last two years.

But Jobs added in his book that he told Eric E. Schmidt, now the executive chairman of Google and a former Apple board member, that he didn’t want any money from Google.

“If you offer me $5 billion, I won’t want it,” Steve Jobs told Mr. Schmidt, according to the new book. “I’ve got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that’s all,” he added.

While Mr. Jobs was a bit obsessed with his idea to destroy Android, there’s no evidence yet that his death in October has altered Apple’s willingness to reach a compromise with makers of Android products. [Via The New York Times, The Huff Post and The Wall Street Journal]

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