After several delays, the ITC ruled today that HTC does in fact infringe on Apple’s patent (#5,946,647) and has issued a ban on the importation of certain HTC devices. The ITC ban includes Android phones that run on versions between 1.6 and 2.2 and specifically names the HTC EVO 4G, HTC Aria, T-Mobile G2 and the HTC DROID Incredible.
The patent itself is a “system and method [which] causes a computer to detect and perform actions on structures identified in computer data,” which covers how Android interacts with the UI in certain instances. While the ITC’s ruling in Apple’s favor is a hard blow for HTC, things could get a lot worse for other Android OEMs. The patent in question implies that the main offender is Google’s Android OS, not HTC. Apple may use this case against HTC as a precedent and ask the ITC to ban the importation of Android devices that infringe on the same patent from other OEMs as well.
Unlike the recent import bans we have seen in Germany, the ITC ban on HTC’s infringing products does not go into effect until April 19, 2012. The time delay is intended to give HTC an adequate amount of time to make changes to its supply chain or fix the issue in question. There are a few exceptions to the ban that will allow HTC to import the handsets in question for warranty replacements for their customers. The only way around the ban is if the president of the United States chooses to veto the decision by the ITC.
While a specific product ban may sound scary, we’d like to point out that the ITC’s ruling includes an exclusion order. Instead of blocking a fixed list of devices, the exclusion order spreads its wings a bit further, encompassing all HTC devices that may infringe on Apple’s patent. This means we could see more HTC phones added to the import ban list, but we’re not sure if the exclusion order could expand to devices that run on Android 2.3 or higher.
Fortunately, there’s a bit of good news in all of this. HTC’s official statement was released a short while ago:
We are gratified that the Commission affirmed the judge's initial determination on the ‘721 and ‘983 patents, and reversed its decision on the ‘263 patent and partially on the ‘647 patent. We are very pleased with the determination and we respect it. However, the ‘647 patent is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon.Grace Leigeneral counsel of HTC
From the sound of it, HTC claims they have a software update in the works that will circumvent the issue at hand. We’d love to know what the “small UI experience” is that’s causing so much trouble, but we’ll probably learn more about it once HTC releases the update.
Apple and HTC have been battling things out in the courts for a long time. Now that Apple has a significant victory under its belt, we have a feeling they will continue to throw more patent infringement cases at HTC and other OEMs. HTC was fortunate to have a backup plan in place for this case. Let’s just hope other Android manufacturers will be as lucky.