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Apple flings patent lawsuit at HTC (again)

Déjà vu all over again. But with new targets

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Apple has ratcheted up its attack on Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC, filing a second patent-infringement complaint that, if successful, could bar HTC products from being imported into the US.

The complaint was filed with US International Trade Commission (USITC) on Friday, Bloomberg reports, and was revealed in a brief notice on the USITC website.

If you're feeling a wee frisson of déjà vu, that's understandable. Apple sued HTC in March 2010 for patent infringement, alleging violation of Apple-held patents covering user interface, hardware, and "underlying architecture". That case was filed both with the USITC and in US federal court against the manufacturer of such Android-based phones as the Sensation, Wildfire S, Desire S, and ChaCha, and the Android-based Flyer tablet.

At that time, Apple CEO Steve Jobs issued a statement saying: "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

HTC then filed a retailiatory countersuit in May, which was followed by an Apple countermove in June that added two more patents to the original 20.

It's not yet known exactly which patents Apple is alleging that HTC has violated in its latest USITC complaint, but it's of interest that the new complaint classes the violating products to be "Portable Electronic Devices and Related Software", while the March 2010 complaint involved "Personal Data and Mobile Communications Devices and Related Software".

It seems that Cupertino may have the Flyer and its follow-on tablets in its sights.

A USITC judge is scheduled to issue a decision on the March 2010 complaint on August 5, but that won't be the final world on whether HTC products will be banned from US importation – the full USITC panel will make that determination later this year.

As for Apple's most recent complaint, don't expect a decision anytime soon – the March 2010 complaint took 17 months between its filing and the August 5 preliminary decision. At that rate, the new complaint won't be rulled upon until December 2012 – and then there will be additional time before the full panel rules.

From now until the end of next year is an eternity in the smartphone and tablet markets – remember, the "magical and revolutionary" iPad has been in the wild for a mere 15 months, and look at how much has changed in the mobile marketplace since its frenzied debut.

Apple's latest patent-infringement complaint against HTC is as much about sowing uncertainty as it is about actually preventing products from being imported into the US.

Or maybe Apple is just miffed that HTC has joined with Microsoft, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson to fight Apple's attempt to trademark the term "App Store" in Europe. ®

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