HTC's infringement of two Apple patents has led to some gloomy predictions about the future of Android phones, but for consumers it's business as usual -- at least for now.
Last week, the U.S. International Trade Commission determined that HTC violated Apple patents, one related to data detection in e-mail and text messages and the other related to data transmission. Patent expert Florian Mueller said the code in question is at the core of Android, prompting some to call the decision a death blow.
Let's not be so hasty. Here are a few reasons why consumers shouldn't get too riled up about the ITC's decision:
HTC will drag this out
"This is only one step of many in these legal proceedings," HTC said in a statement. The next step is an appeal, which HTC intends to file. These proceedings can take a long time to play out, with the ITC taking 15 months to render its initial verdict. I don't know how long an ITC appeals process usually lasts, but certainly your immediate ability to purchase an HTC Android phone isn't in jeopardy. If there's any effect on other Android phone makers, it's not going to happen overnight either.
HTC might have a workaround
HTC has suggested that it could work around the Apple patents if need be. "As a leading smartphone innovator for more than a decade, we develop and acquire technology in many areas and strongly believe we have alternative solutions in place for the issues raised by Apple," the company said. Seeing as the patents are related to deep-level functions of the operating system, any changes would likely be less noticeable than, say, a violation of a multitouch patent.
A ban on Android is doubtful
Officially, Apple is seeking a ban on imports of HTC's Android phones, but when I spoke to several IP and patent lawyers about this case last year, most agreed that patent licensing deals are more likely. Microsoft has proven how lucrative these deals can be, reportedly making more money on Android than it does on its own Windows Phones, thanks to deals with HTC and other companies. Sure, Apple could refuse to license its patents, but that wouldn't necessarily bury Android (see above point) and would only open the door to fiercer competition with Microsoft and Windows Phones. Taking a cut from HTC's success seems like a better option for Apple.
Licensing Fees aren't the end of the world
HTC, by one estimate, pays $5 to Microsoft for every Android phone sold, but that hasn't stopped HTC's profits from doubling in Q3 2010 and tripling in Q1 2011. It also hasn't led to any noticeable increase in smartphone prices. If the HTC-Apple patent battle comes down to licensing fees, that's not necessarily a huge problem. It certainly doesn't spell doom for Android.