The International Trade Commission (ITC) has ruled on ten claims of patent infringement by Apple. The patent claims center largely around HTC’s use of touch-based user interaction, stretching back to the release of the original HTC Touch, which rivaled the original iPhone.
Of the ten patent claims, HTC only was ruled to be found infringing on a single patent, centering around the use of actions after someone has touched and held on a specific piece of information. For example, selecting a person from a call list, touching and holding that, and getting options to then call the user.
For the HTC Sense-savvy, this is believed to be the Sense popups that appear after holding down on user fields or text boxes. For example, when holding down on a text box, options (cut, copy, paste, etc) appear in bubbles. This mimics iOS’s clipboard behavior. On the standard Android platform, the user interface instead draws a menu that requires further user interaction.
HTC has not said if they will appeal the decision, but has said they will remove the feature regardless before the deadline, set four months from now. Since Android allows for the same user interactions with pauses that appear to satisfy the ITC in this regard, it appears HTC has cleared the ITC complaint process relatively unscathed.
This does not, however, come close to ending the legal wars between Apple and HTC. The two are still locked in patent infringement claims in federal court, and Apple is continuing to pursue Android manufacturers globally for patent infringement.
The dogged pursuit of Apple’s patents was a mandate set forth by the late Steve Jobs, who gave public cues at the original iPhone’s introduction stating “… and boy have we patented it!” Jobs believes that pursuing Apple’s patents aggressively will help Apple avoid becoming the next Palm, who chose to keep a large patent portfolio, but rarely exercised it for claims of patent infringement.
In an odd twist of fate, Palm’s patent portfolio, now owned by HP, could be of use to Android device manufacturers in staving off Apple’s complaints. While HP has re-committed to webOS in a multi-year open source reinvestment, the company also has been rebuilding much of its resources to model itself after IBM; a corporate solutions parter for large companies.
HP could sell licenses to its treasure trove of Palm patents, which Apple has not licensed, for Android device manufacturers to leverage them as a deterrent against Apple and Microsoft. Microsoft is also pursuing Android manufacturers, convincing giants such as HTC and Samsung to sign patent royalty deals to prevent claims of patent infringement from the world’s largest operating system developer.
Many in the consumer world though cite these ongoing battles as a failure of the patent system in nearly every country; large companies will inevitably sign large patent settlements, and license patents for billions of dollars. Meanwhile, small innovative companies face two choices; risk being bankrupted by corporate giants over (baseless) patent infringement claims, or be acquired for pennies on the dollar by large corporations, preventing their own innovations from actually bearing fruit for the startups and inventors that built them.