When Steve Jobs took to the stage at MacWorld back in 2007 and announced the original iPhone, he put special emphasis on the fact that they had patented the hell out of the technology inside the revolutionary smartphone. And now, four years later, it looks like the rest of the smartphone market could be facing some serious trouble for patent infringement.
Last Friday, smartphone giant and manufacturing pioneer HTC lost out in two important patent rulings by the US International Trade Commission. If upheld, the ruling could stop HTC handsets from being sold in the US by the end of the year. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal.
HTC has already announced that it plans to appeal the decisions, which are just two of 10 cases of patent infringement currently being investigated by the ITC. The outcome of the appeal should be known by December, which will hopefully give HTC and the rest of the Android brigade a chance to disprove Apple’s allegations.
Because perhaps the biggest issue with these patent lawsuits isn’t the fact that HTC phones have breached Apple’s patents, it’s that - as patent expert Florian Mueller described following the announcement last week - that the patents in question seem to be a core part of Android’s OS, as opposed to anything particular to HTC phones.
Think about that for a second. If the ITC upholds its decision following HTC’s appeal, it could open the doors to patent infringement claims against not just HTC, but every Android handset on the market. Already, the same patents are being used in a case against Motorola, and one of them appeared in the case against Nokia as well.
And given that the ITC will have already ruled in favour of Apple once, it’s unlikely to renege on its stance for other manufacturers.
How HTC and the rest of the Android community react will be paramount to the platform’s continued success. There is potential for HTC to license the patents in question, but there’s a good chance that won’t happen unless HTC owns some patents that Apple wants to license back.
Given the massive success that Android has had over the past 18 months, overtaking Apple and RIM to become the biggest smartphone operating system in the world, this patent ruling has some serious consequences. Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the two platforms will continue to compete evenly around the world, but the road ahead is looking mighty bumpy at the moment…