Apple Wins Round Against Android
[DECEMBER 19, 2011, Wall Street Journal]
Apple Inc. was handed a legal victory that is bad news for rival Google Inc., as a U.S. trade agency ruled that some HTC Corp. smartphones that use the Internet company’s Android software infringe an Apple patent.
The U.S. International Trade Commission on Monday ordered HTC by April to stop importing handsets that infringe the patent. The Taiwanese company said it would remove the feature found to violate Apple’s patent, a move that should avoid disruption to its U.S. business.
Apple is tangling over intellectual property with multiple competitors around the world, in large part seeking to hobble rivals using Android-powered smartphones from taking a larger share of the business. The long-awaited ruling by the ITC is one of the first high-profile decisions in Apple’s home market.
The ITC’s decision narrowed an earlier finding that HTC was infringing multiple claims of two separate patents. Instead, it found that some HTC smartphones using Android violated only two claims of one Apple patent related to extracting information such as phone numbers from emails and doing something with the information, such as making a phone call. That invention, sometimes described as covering “data tapping,” allows users to grab data embedded in an unstructured form, like an address, and use it in another phone application, such as mapping.
It wasn’t clear how many HTC smartphones use the infringing technology. Grace Lei, the company’s general counsel, said in a statement that the ruling involved a “small” user-interface feature and “HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon.”
An Apple spokeswoman said “competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”
The decision comes as HTC and Apple are tussling in a number of courts over their shares of the growing smartphone market. Apple’s taking its fight to other Android handset makers, too, many of which are retaliating.
Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. have numerous cases against each other with the ITC seeking to bar the other from selling their products.
A spokesman for Google declined to comment.
Apple leads the market in the U.S., with 28.6% of the country’s consumer smartphone subscribers in the three-month period ending in October, ahead of HTC, which had just over 20%, according to Nielsen. But Android devices, which often use email, maps and other features from Apple rival Google, pose a growing threat to the Cupertino, Calif., company and together have a greater share of the U.S. smartphone software market than the iPhone.
Despite the narrowing of the patent claims, some experts said the ITC decision was an important victory for Apple.
Alexander Poltorak, chairman and CEO of Suffern, N.Y.-based General Patent Corp., which advise companies on their patent strategies, says the decision “validates that the Android operating system has implemented a number of inventions from Apple.” He predicted that the decision would “go a long way” in convincing HTC to consider a global patent settlement with Apple.
An HTC spokeswoman declined additional comment.
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