Apple’s Patent Victory Against HTC Could Cripple Every Android Phone Out There

Apple’s Patent Victory Against HTC Could Cripple Every Android Phone Out There

On Friday, the U.S. International Trade Commission agreed with Apple and found that HTC’s smartphones infringed upon at least two patents.

The wound Apple has dealt HTC is not just a minor scratch, though. It’s a big victory, and it goes beyond just HTC. Apple may have just plunged its patent dagger right into Android’s achilles heel.

According to FOSS Patents, Apple’s victory against HTC in front of the ITC means that a number of — maybe all! — Android handsets could be barred from sale starting in December.

Why? Apparently, the two infringed patents cover an integral part of the Android architecture, rather than modifications made by HTC.

This means that for HTC — and any other Android licensee — to avoid either paying up to Apple or being sued, Google would need to make “fundamental changes to the Android architecture.”

The final ITC decision won’t be made until December, but Google and Android handset makers have got to be nervous now.

My guess is they’d just choose to license the patent from Apple, but you’ve got to wonder: could there be a day when Android is as lucrative to Apple as it is for Microsoft, who already makes more money from Android license patenting than they do on their own Windows Phone 7 OS?

Related
  • bplano

    I still find this silly, because certain parts of iOS 5 are nearly identical to Android. 

    That isn’t to say Android hasn’t copied iOS in some ways (which is where this whole patent thing is going, I believe) but really Apple? :\

  • Elliot George

    John Brownlee you are a disgrace to journalism. How long did it take you crank out this post? Couldn’t be bothered to offer us a brief spell-check? Your grammar and spelling is inexcusable.

  • techgeek01

    Google and Android handsets makers are not nervous.  The patents are so vague, that they cover any computer-like device. Plus when they were granted, 15 and 17 years ago, there was no iPhone, let alone smartphones.

    Well, if Google and Android handset makers are nervous, well everybody who make a computer-like device is nervous as well. 

  • Kenan Sönmez

    @elliot….eazy eazy….
    @john: very informative….on the other hand…why should android be lucrative to apple or to microsoft?

  • Honey Badger

    I expect that these infringements will not be the only ones when the dust settles. Apple has made other infringement claims that have yet to be ruled on. Some may be invalidated, but I’m betting others will stick.

  • theoPhobia

    Ah yes, but who owns the patent for that notification UI (I think is what you are referring to with iOS 5), and who has licensed it? 

  • John Henderson

    as a closet techie i cant figure out why google doesn’t start from scratch and do some real inovation . they had a chance to get patent’s at auction but they didn’t they though it was a joke but everyone else didn’t  it is not like they a poor . It seems like their leadership is asleep at the wheel If they are using other people stuff they should pay . What i don’t understand  about android is if everything is free how do people make money to live maybe i am just stupid 

  • Rann Xeroxx

    I really hate all these ambiguous patents on ideas that are not implemented till years later.  I personally feel that the reason that the US does not fix the patent laws is because the US no longer produces anything but lawsuits.  

  • oakdesk23

    FWIW these patents were applied for 15 and 17 years ago, not granted. One was granted in 2002 the other in 1999 which means they still have life in them. Patents expire 17 years from when they were granted.

  • tmaiaroto

    It’s just BS. Why didn’t Apple file claims sooner? Hell with the patents they have…They should have. I think they realize that they only get so much with this tactic. They gotta use the BS tactic when it’s needed most because it’ll run out of gas. Eventually a smarter judge who gets technology and isn’t a moron will see right through this and put an end to it. Apple simple saved this trick for a rainy day. They see their product being threatened and since it’s the bulk of their income, it’s basically a strike against the competition for its life really. Apple is fighting for its life (as they always have been, really as history shows us). I mean not anytime soon, but this stuff really will affect them over the course of say 10 years. It’s terrible though because it’s like throwing sand in your opponent’s eyes to win a fight.

    The one patent was something to the affect of on a mouse click or hover, etc. determining if the item was an e-mail address or phone number and then launching the appropriate application to act on that. Seriously?! Then Apple has to go after Skype because you know that browser plugin detects phone numbers and lets you make calls by launching Skype. They gotta go after Mozilla and Microsoft and every other browser software company because clicking on e-mail addresses will open up your e-mail client. Don’t forget to sue Microsoft too for the Windows operating system too.

    It’s just all garbage if you read the patents. I wouldn’t be surprised if the judges get something out of the deal. The world is extremely corrupt. At the end of the day, you just have to follow logic and money. It’ll paint the picture of the future for you. I don’t even know why I’m so surprised…But I’m definitely hurt as a developer. It just makes me feel like there’s no point to it all sometimes.

  • kozjegyzo

    I really don’t think there’s a reason for being nervous, because Apple has infringed on a lot of other patents, so these will cancel each other out.
    It’s really a shame that Apple has gone away from innovating and reaching to low life methods to keep it’s head in the game. It must be a sore to be second, but suck it up and come out with something revolutionary or magical… LOL

  • lwdesign1

    What really bothers me about Android phone is that the interface is nearly identical to the iPhone. Prior to the iPhone, there was no such thing as what we now know as a “smartphone”. Apple came out with the all-screen, no physical keyboard design, with main section icons on the bottom of the screen and apps lined up in rows above. Since the introduction of the iPhone, Google “all of a sudden” got all these good ideas and came out with a form-factor and GUI that’s nearly identical to the iPhone. Apple did all the research and design, then it’s stolen nearly point for point by Google for Android. Uh-uh! That’s copyright and trademark infringement. 

    The same has happened with the iPad. Apple does the tough part: figuring out the basic workable format for a tablet, then sees Samsung, Xoom, HP, Blackberry and all the other companies pirate these basic ideas as if they’re in the public domain. Not OK and not ethical. How about some innovation from someone else besides Apple?

    If you’d worked for years to bring a new device to market, I’m sure you’d be equally upset with someone who came along and appropriated your ideas without even asking to license them.

  • Honey Badger

    Look at the smartphones available prior to the iPhone and look at them now. The market is riddled with copies (Android), because Apple hit one out of the park. The iPhone rocked the landscape of mobile phones and you say that they don’t innovate?

    Hey, I’m sick of the lawsuits as much as the next person. Apple is simply protecting it’s work. The reality is that it’s sad that they even have to. If Apple’s “competition” would do their own thing, this wouldn’t even be necessary.

    BTW, where Apple is proven to have unlawfully used another companies IP, they need to be called on it as well but saying that Apple doesn’t innovate is laughable.

  • Oscar Salguero

    Apple just greedier and sooner or later they will die like any other technology.

  • kozjegyzo

    The iPhone was a great product, of course it wasn’t really a phone, that feature is still under development ;-) However it wasn’t and never will be enough to stop Android. Apple’s, playing catch up since the iPhone 4. The Android devices are  ahead now, and will be from now on, that’s a fact. It was never a case of “if”, but “when” this will happen. How could one company with one device take on dozens of companies with hundreds of devices with an open OS that anyone can develop? Oh yeah plus Google…
    The answer: exactly what they are trying to do now, win with lawyers. They are not alone however. 
    Here is a beautiful info-graphic to sum it up :) 
    http://www.informationisbeauti

  • jeanlouisnguyen

    I hope Apple finds a way to sue Microsoft too, and prevent the sale of all Android and Windows Phone devices. There should only be one player.

  • Honey Badger

    What you’re missing here is the way that Apple does things. Apple put a ton of R & D into the iPhone before it was ever even shown. They rocked the industry with a revolutionary new mobile device. One could argue that they have not added anything that might be classified as “earth-shattering” since then. What they have done is built on the original design and refined it. That is the way that Apple does things, they “rock and refine” (or at least try to).

    What Android did was basically lift Apple’s work and jump in at the “improve and refining stage”, and that’s not right. They are actually the one who has done very little true innovating in my opinion. All Apple is doing is trying to protect their initial R & D investment on the iPhone from being swiped and what’s wrong with that?

    I like this quote from an Information Week article… “The more interesting question–if what lies within Android is billions of dollars of intellectual property from Apple, Oracle, and Microsoft, where does that leave Google?”

    BTW, The iPhone as a “Phone” has been fine for me (on Rogers).

  • Honey Badger

    Windows phone 7 is actually pretty decent and they did it without trying to be a clone of the iPhone. Every smartphone doesn’t have to be like the iPhone. 

    Competition is a good thing. Innovation is a good thing, just do your own damn innovating instead of copying someone else’s. Apple is just protecting the investment in their work. 

  • Honey Badger

    Apple routinely applies for patents that often take years to be finalized. I may be mistaken on this, but I believe that there are still patents waiting to be approved on the original iPhone. This may be one reason for them waiting. Applying for a patent and being awarded a patent are two entirely different things.

  • tmaiaroto

    I think this one was from 1994. So even if it took a while to be finalized…Here’s the rub… You have a very broad patent. How do you choose to use it? You use it to snipe specific competitors that are easier and/or more important targets. It’s a very strategic thing. I couldn’t even begin to understand or determine “who” to target if I was in a lawyer’s position. Knowing that they simply don’t have the money to legally go after everyone. They simply can’t enforce their patents for every infringement. If it was about “don’t steal our technology” then they would be targeting Google for Android. NOT the smaller, HTC company that is overseas. By targeting specific companies, they are simply just using the patent as a means to compete instead of relying on their product to do the competing for them. They know they can reduce number of units imported to the US. If HTC didn’t have to import, they likely wouldn’t even be targeted. Apple would go back to harping on Samsung or something.

    I suppose it’s within their legal right…And I do like Apple products, I think they deserve to be in the market place. I think they are wonderful, but as a consumer I want the choice of devices. I don’t want there to ONLY be an iPhone. I like HTC devices. I might like them even more if they ran iOS. I think Apple is stupid not to partner with a company like that to build the devices. Solid build, cheaper, better hardware. They went after making their own chip and I just think that was stupid, they didn’t pay attention to their own historic mistakes with that one. Who knows. However, Apple should go after Google and not HTC. It’s just, again, a smaller target that will have a very positive effect for Apple’s iPhone sales. It’s just not good for the consumer. Apple is essentially following the same monopoly footsteps as M$ only in a much more hostile, cheap, and uncreative way. Simply put, Steve Jobs is a little kid. You know what its like working for him? You can’t look him in the eye if he walks by for fear of being fired. It’s just absurd and abusive and all sorts of psychologically messed up. Apple has good stuff and they need to let quality products speak for themselves instead of resorting to this petty crap. In place of HTC will come another company that infringes, it’s not going to end. It’s just a shame for the consumer really. It leads to unsupported products, so we have no choice but to abandon our devices that we paid money for. Then go and buy the more expensive Apple product. So we’re just screwed both ways.

  • BobbyZee

    Well considering Spamdroid is nothing but a sh*tty knock off copy of IOS and has been from day one (you KNOW it mindless Apple hating Fandroid army)…so this ruling is years overdue.  I suspect EvilGoog and co will end up quietly paying Apple for patent infringement and Droids will continue to sell to the cheap,ignorant and the wack Apple hating groups out there.

  • Honey Badger

    I certainly agree that some patents are rather broad. I happen to feel that some patents never should have been awarded in the first place.

    That said, Google “borrowed” an awful lot from the iPhone rather that innovate on their own. Google aren’t only accused of borrowing from Apple. Microsoft and Oracle also feel that Google has taken liberty with their IP. Google and  Android may be in some hot water.

    Yeah, Steve has a reputation of ruling with an iron fist, but I don’t know how anyone can call him or Apple uncreative. Google scammed the original iPhone and started their work from that point. THAT is was Apple has a problem with.

  • tmaiaroto

    No, I called his legal team uncreative =) And I agree, a LOT was ripped off from Apple. That’s just indisputable. Not just by Google, but other companies as well. Look at all the tablets that came out with nearly identical design and various interfaces that cloned the iOS interface (on various platforms be it Android or Windows Mobile even). So I feel Apple’s pain…However, at the same time…They should be going after Google and not HTC or Samsung. Or those companies (small ones) that made iPad knock-offs (you know those small companies that made IDENTICAL looking hardware). That’s really where it’s a very clear cut case of IP infringement. Likely Apple didn’t go after them because their cheap copy-cat products didn’t work or sell anyway.

    As for features of an OS…Operating systems have been copying features for years. Where’s the line get drawn? A lot of Apple’s own “ideas” aren’t exactly original if you dig deep enough. Apple does a REAL good job at claiming they are original or the “first” for something when they simply aren’t. Or that they are the ONLY one to do something. All up and down their commercials, etc. Honestly, the lying to consumers and overcharging for hardware is the only issue I have with Apple. Other than that, I think they are innovative and creative and produce nice products. I would want them to protect that…But by more honorable means.

    It’s like having a patent on a drop down menu… Seriously? That’s what business and competition has come to these days…Oh what honor!

  • Honey Badger

    Sorry, I misread.

    Agreed. I’m all for one company being inspired by the work of another. That moves things forward. As you say, where is the line drawn?

    I happen to feel that the original concept for a drop-down menu is pretty significant, but that’s just me.

    While HTC and Samsung don’t make the Android OS, they are still selling devices that run on it. I think that Apple should be going after Google as well and I think that day is coming.

    Cheers.

  • s n

    This bugs me no end. I wish these companies would just get on with it and keep producing great devices without all the squabbling. Android is nothing like Apple, I really love my Apple products but I am starting to hate Apple. Quite frankly I am glad that there is strong competition out there, if HTC and Samsung et al are not around to push Apple what it the incentive for them to produce ever better devices? Even with this “pressure” from other makers Apple will just punch out another iPhone with identical form factor and just make it a little quicker and increase the battery life by 8% and expect everyone to upgrade. Apple is becoming what Microsoft was 15 years ago.

  • tmaiaroto

    Well yea, it’s significant…But, is it morally OK to patent it? To create such conditions that it’s nearly impossible for any other company to even produce a useable product? Apple just simply doesn’t promote open source (which is ok) or technological progress (which is morally not ok) unless it’s made by them. They want to hold all the cards. Maybe I’m a hippie or something, but I believe open source matters. I believe in collaboration and inspiration.

  • Honey Badger

    Actually, I think that would be worthy of a patent. (just my opinion) 

    I think this would fall into a category where the legal holder of the innovation be granted sole rights to use or license it for a set number of years and then it becomes public domain for anyone to use. I can’t imagine not having drop-down menus. It is a great concept.I’m all for being inspired by someone else’s work, but again where is the line where inspiration becomes simply scoffing someone’s idea.BTW, I respect your opinion, I just think that people who innovate should be entitled to certain benefits for their R & D. That said some of this is getting crazy for sure.

  • tmaiaroto

    Hey, how narrow can we make this column? =) Yea, I agree I think a licensing fee would solve all or most of these problems.

  • Honey Badger

    I think that the patent holder should be required to license the innovation (when another company wished to use it) in order to not hold back the industry as a whole.

    Did I mention that I’m claustrophobic?

  • Robert Norris Hills

    Are you high? I stopped reading your post when you said the iPhone was the first smartphone. 

    Idiot. 

  • Brendan Hauville

    “as what we NOW know” If you’d pay attention to what he said.
    And He means before apple iPhone, no other smartphone had a design like it. Now, all we see is smart phones that look the same. One big screen. no physical keyboard, and the same setting for all your aps. He never said the iPhone was the first smartphone. But it was the first real succes for inovation in a smart phone.

  • shherr

    The part about apps lined up above the “dock” (drawer in android) isn’t always true for android unless you’re using Samsung’s touchwiz interface or whatever LG’s is called. Samsung’s interface is a direct copy of iOS (in my opinion). You can put icons wherever you want on android without the auto-placement of iOS. You can also put widgets on your home screen.

    Sometimes “new ideas” are just “improvements” on old ideas.

    p.s. I have both iOS and android devices. Not a fangirl for either side, but I do like that I can keep my android home screens blank.

  • shherr

    Am I the only person that noticed none of the phones in the picture are android devices??

  • shherr

    lol. Or maybe some people own a mac, itouch 4g, and an android phone. It’s possible to not choose a side.

  • Dilbert A

    Apple Inc. /= a “technology”.

  • Dilbert A

    Weak troll bro.

  • kozjegyzo

    Eric Schmidt doesn’t seem to think so :D

    http://www.news.com.au/technol

  • kozjegyzo

    Big Bro is here to help :D 
    http://www.news.com.au/technol

  • kozjegyzo

    Big Bro is here to help :D 
    http://www.news.com.au/technol

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , , |