HTC Dealt a Setback in Apple Patent War

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The ITC has dismissed a patent infringement claim from S3 Graphics against Apple. The ruling is bad news for HTC, which is engaged in its own patent battles with Apple, and is in the midst of acquiring S3 Graphics--ostensibly to shore up its patent arsenal.

A blog post from Florian Mueller, a patent and intellectual property analyst, explains that the official notice does not provide any details specifying why the ITC overruled the preliminary decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The official notice from the ITC simply states that no violation has been shown, and officially terminates the investigation.

The scales of the legal system seem to be tipping in Apple's favor.
Android is engaged in a variety of proxy legal battles between companies like Apple and Microsoft, and the various vendors who are building mobile devices that rely on Google’s mobile platform. So far, Google itself hasn’t been challenged directly, but Motorola has, and Google purchased Motorola Mobility, so Google has joined the party indirectly.

This ruling is not necessarily a victory for Apple in its ongoing battle with HTC. It doesn’t hurt to have opposing patent allegations dismissed, but the ITC rejection of the patent infringement claims from S3 Graphics doesn’t guarantee that the ITC will rule in favor of Apple. The opposing cases are considered separately--it isn’t really an either/or.

There are many who believe that Apple’s patent infringement allegations are also lacking in merit. Apple holds a diverse array of patents--many of which may be too vague or general to be enforceable. It seems reasonable to suggest that some of Apple’s patents may not hold up under scrutiny.

However, it is does not seem reasonable at this point to believe that Android simply doesn’t violate any patents, and that Microsoft and Apple are just jealous of Android’s success. A number of vendors--including HTC--have entered into licensing agreements with Microsoft to pay fees for the patented concepts and technologies “borrowed” by Android. Agreeing to pay licensing fees is at least a tacit admission of infringement.

The problem for Android vendors when it comes to the patent war with Apple is that Apple is not interested in collecting licensing fees. Steve Jobs vowed to defend the Apple patents with every last penny Apple has--which is a lot of pennies.

Apple wants the violations to cease, and any infringing products to be banned from the market. Depending on the patents, reengineering devices to work around them could be a herculean task. Perhaps Apple will soften its position under Tim Cook, and agree to some sort of cross-licensing settlement.

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