The US International Trade Commission issued a determination on Friday that Taiwanese smartphone giant HTC is infringing upon two Apple patents in the firm’s Android smartphones.
The rule is a serious blow to HTC and the announcement briefly set the firm’s stock tumbling six per cent although it has since recovered somewhat. The ITC has the ability to block the imports of devices deemed to be infringing which would deny HTC the largest single market in the world for high-end smartphones.
Patent activist Florian Mueller said that he believes "it’s very likely that all Android devices infringe" upon the Apple patents which will likely add to the patent woes Google faces with the Android mobile operating system. It’s possible that manufacturers using Android may end up needing to pay significant royalties to Apple, Microsoft and Oracle depending how ongoing patent cases pan out.
One of the patents is US Patent No 5,946,647 which was filed in 1996 and describes a "system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data." Specifically it relates to the automatic recognition of phone numbers and email addresses such as in text messages, allowing the mobile device to offer appropriate actions such as calling and emailing numbers and address from within the text client.
Such an ‘innovation’ may seem strikingly obvious but the US software patent system is famously broad in this regard. Another of the patents relates to "real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data," with Apple arguing that one particular system-on-chip made by Qualcomm infringes, hence so does the named HTC Nexus One.
If this is found to infringe upon Apple’s patents then it raises the spectre of hefty licence fees, damages or import bans for virtually every Android smartphone or other operating system phone based on such chips, of which there are many.
HTC said that the firm will appeal and continue to "vigorously fight" the patent claims and that the firm is prepared to implement "alternate solutions" to avoid the patents in question. However the Mueller described the patent as likely to be "extremely hard to work around."
If not resolved the action could result in the banning of HTC Android devices from import in the US within four months.