Apple Wins Key ITC Ruling Over HTC Patent Claim

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Apple has been cleared of violating HTC’s intellectual property by a new ruling by the US trade regulators

Apple has not violated any HTC patents according to a new ruling by the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

The ruling is significant as it is yet another legal victory to Apple in its quest to destroy what Steve Jobs felt was a blatant rip-off of Apple iOS, namely the Android operating system.

The ITC ruling declared that Apple did not violate any graphic chip patents owned by auto compression specialist S3 Graphics. The ITC ruling actually reverses its own preliminarily findings on the matter, when in July it said that some Apple products had indeed violated two of S3’s patents involving texture compression.

Expensive Mistake?

HTC acquired S3 Graphics back in July this year for a cool $300m (£191m), to aid in its patent fight against Apple. But this seems to have made an expensive mistake after its plan backfired.

And even worse news for HTC came when the ITC declared its investigation of the matter was now “terminated”.

“Having examined the record of this investigation, including the ALJ’s (Administrative Law Judge) final ID and the submissions of the parties and non-parties, the Commission has determined to reverse the ALJ’s finding of a violation of section 337 and find no violation,” it said.

The ITC has the power to block the import of goods into the United States, and if the decision had gone against Apple, it could have been very damaging indeed.

Tech companies like using the ITC for patent infringement cases because judgements are delivered quicker than the courts, and getting a rival’s products banned from being imported into the US is also very appealing.

Legal Tussle

HTC and Apple have been locked in a tit-for-tat legal battle over smartphone patents since March 2010, when Apple fired the first salvo with a complaint to the ITC, alleging that HTC had violated 20 of its patents.

Apple then followed this up in June and July 2010 with more lawsuits claiming two further violations, as well as a complaint to the ITC.

But it has not been one-way traffic. In between HTC filed a patent infringement suit of its own, asking the ITC to ban Apple from selling iPods, iPads and iPhones in the US. And in August 2011  HTC filed a complaint against Apple in London’s High Court.

A further development came in September when HTC acquired a number of patents from Google, in order to expand its lawsuit against Apple.

HTC Setback

Meanwhile, patent expert Florian Mueller, of the blog Foss Patents, admitted that today’s ITC ruling is not good news for HTC.

“It’s a setback for HTC, which is in the process of acquiring S3 Graphics and was hoping to gain leverage against Apple,” wrote Mueller. “HTC’s own first ITC complaint against Apple is rather unlikely to result in a finding of any violation. An Administrative Law Judge made an initial determination of no violation, and the ITC staff (the Office of Unfair Import Investigations) does not appear to oppose the ALJ’s position.”

The ITC meanwhile is also reviewing a ruling that HTC infringed Apple patents. That case is set to be decided by the ITC on 6 December.

Apple is also locked in a legal battle with Samsung, despite the fact that the South Korean giant supplies many of the chips used in Apple products. It is also battling patent infringement claims from Motorola.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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