HTC Phones Face Ban Unless Apple Patented Feature Is Removed

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HTC has been found guilty in the US of infringing only one patent of ten asserted by Apple

Apple has won an injunction against the sale of HTC smartphones in the US after the Taiwanese manufacturer was found to have infringed on an Apple patent in the production of a number of its smartphones.

However the US International Trade Commission has given HTC until April to adhere to the ban and has found the company guilty of infringing just one patent, rather than the 10 that Apple accused them of, causing experts to brand the ban superfluous.

Good result for HTC?

The ITC found that some HTC smartphones violated two claims of one Apple patent related to the extraction of unstructured information from an email for use in another application. Examples of such actions include using a phone number to make a call or identifying an address to use for mapping.

It is not clear how many HTC devices are guilty of the infringement, but Grace Lei, the company’s general counsel, said that the ruling involved just a small user interface feature and that “HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon.”

The apparent minor nature of the infringement and the timescale which HTC has been given to remove it should mean that disruption to HTC’s US operations should be minimal, a view shared by analyst Florian Mueller.

If Google can implement this popular feature, which users of modern-day smartphones really expect, without infringing on the two patent claims found infringed, this import ban won’t have any effect whatsoever,” said Mueller.

“This ruling falls far short of anything would force HTC out of the U.S. market in the near term,” he added. “Out of ten patents originally asserted, Apple finally managed to enforce one, and it’s one of medium value.”

Legal Woes

Last month, Apple was cleared by the ITC of violating HTC’s patents, the most recent of a series of claims and counterclaims made by the two companies since Apple alleged that the HTC-manufactured Google Nexus One infringed its patents. The row has escalated to such an extent that HTC even acquired patents from Google in order to strengthen its claim against Apple.

HTC’s legal woes continued when intellectual property company IPcom successfully proved its patents had been infringed by HTC’s 3G smartphones and won an injunction banning their sale in Germany. IPcom, which acquired Bosch’s portfolio of 160 mobile patents, began enforcing the ban last month and has threatened legal action against German retailers which disobey the order.

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