The International Trade Commission sided with Apple (AAPL) and ruled that Android handset-maker HTC was copying elements of its iPhone and that its imports of certain phones into the United States be stopped.
The decision, which is subject to a 60-day review by the Obama Administration and will likely be appealed, turns another page in a complicated legal skirmish being tracked by both retailers and analysts because of its possible impact on HTC’s Android business.
It is a closely watched patent battle with potential repercussions for the smartphone industry, in particular smartphone makers who use Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system. Apple, claimed that Taiwan-based HTC, one of the fastest growing players in the mobile-phone industry and the No. 3 smartphone provider in the United States, infringed on two of the patents governing the technology behind its phones. The ITC found that only one of the patents — which allows users to tap on a phone number in an e-mail and immediately be connected — had been infringed by HTC.
The San Jose Mercury reports that by issuing a “limited exclusion order” prohibiting HTC from importing devices that run the software in question, the commission is essentially telling HTC it must figure out a way around the disputed patent or else stop bringing its phones into the United States. The court gave HTC until next April to comply, or else come up with a “workaround” that would resolve the issue.
HTC downplayed the significance of the ruling saying that the disputed feature will be completely removed from all its phones.
“This it just one more step in a long process,” said Bijal V. Vakil, a partner in White & Case’s Intellectual Property Practice and executive partner of its Silicon Valley office who was not involved in the case. “HTC will likely appeal the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. HTC may also file a request for a stay on the order, which often happens. This not a disastrous ruling at all for HTC.”
According to the Mercury, with Google’s Android system now the most widely used software on smartphones, an order barring or cutting back on the number of HTC phones entering the country would have severe repercussions at the retail level.
In addition to Apple, Oracle (ORCL) has sued Google, claiming Android violates its patents and copyrights. And Microsoft is suing Motorola Mobility over Android.
Today, was a first of many victories to come for Apple. Apple co-founder the Great Steve Jobs’ “vow to kill Android”. That’s materializing.