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HTC hurls more patent spew on Apple

Mobile biz stuck on repeat

Top three mobile application threats

HTC has filed a new patent-infringement suit against Apple, setting in motion yet another round of patent litigation between Cupertino and the Taiwanese manufacturer of Android-based smartphones and tablets.

The suit, which alleges infringment of three patents, follows Apple's four-patent slap at HTC of July 11. Other jolly fun for patent lawyers that the two warring parties have filed include:

  • a 20-patent barrage that Apple filed against HTC in March of last year
  • a five-patent response to that suit, filed by HTC against Apple that same April
  • a June update of Apple's March suit, adding two identical patents to the original 20

The 20-patent fusillade that Apple launched in March of 2010 was filed in both a US District Court and at the US International Trade Commission. One month ago, the ITC issued a preliminary ruling that HTC had, indeed, violated two of the disputed patents.

That ITC ruling, however, still needs to be reviewed by the ITC commisioners, and HTC issued a statement that it will "vigorously fight" that decision. "This is only one step of many in these legal proceedings," it said.

HTC could also have noted that the preliminary decision was but one step of many in many, many legal proceedings regarding patent infringement among Apple, HTC, Microsoft, Google, Motorola, and other mobile-market players, all wending their slow and laborious way through an overtaxed US justice system.

Whatever your opinion of patent litigation – and ours involves a fine compote of nausea and revulsion – it is instructive to look, for example, at the relative types of patents being asserted by Apple and HTC in their two most recent spats:

July 11, 2011: Apple v HTC

  • 7,844,915, "Application programming interfaces for scrolling operations"
  • 7,084,859, "Programmable tactile touch screen displays and man-machine interfaces for improved vehicle instrumentation and telematics"
  • 7,920,129, "Double-sided touch-sensitive panel with shield and drive combined layer"
  • 6,956,564, "Portable computers"

August 15, 2011: HTC v Apple

  • 7,765,414, "Circuit and operating method for integrated interface of PDA and wireless communication system"
  • 7,672,219, "Point-to-point communication using orthogonal frequency division multiplexing"
  • 7,417,944, "Method for orderwire modulation"

It does appear at first blush that the patents which HTC claims that Apple is infringing involve more-specific engineering methods than do Apple's claims. And then there's the sheer madness of Apple's "Portable computers" patent, which we've discussed earlier – you owe yourself a click-through to take a look at the risible illustrations for that patent, and divine how they might reasonably apply to any device produced by HTC.

Of course, the operant word in that last sentence was "reasonably". Sadly, reason and patent law have become estranged from one another in the US.

It's just one day since Google spent $12.5bn to acquire Motorola Mobility and its 17,000 patents and 7,500 pending patent applications, and six weeks since Apple, Microsoft, RIM, EMC, Ericsson, and Sony beat out Google in a surreal bidding war that ended with that consortium paying $4.5bn to acquire over 6,000 4G and wireless broadband patents from Nortel.

It's a resource-raping arms race, and the user is the loser.

If companies spent half as much energy competing on features, user interface, performance, and battery life of their mobile devices as they do on asserting their right to control "Application programming interfaces for scrolling operations", we'd all be better off.

Instead, today's tactic is to stifle competition in the courts rather than welcome it in the marketplace – and from where we sit, we don't see the that stratagem changing at any time in the foreseeable future. ®

Top three mobile application threats

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