The tables have been turned, if slightly, on Apple in its patent fight with Android device maker HTC – and by extension, Google.
Apple has been suing HTC and claiming that the company’s smartphones and tablets that run Google’s Android operating system have infringed on its patents for its iPhone and iPad. This is one of the many lawsuits Apple is currently waging against Android device makers; another notable one is its battle with Samsung, in which Apple has won victories all over the world.
When it comes to HTC, however, Apple isn’t just dealing with a device maker. It’s also dealing with the wrath of Google, which has pledged to support its Android partners against these very patent lawsuits, the likes of which have been going pretty steadily more or less ever since everyone realized that there were truckloads of money to be made in the smartphone and tablet arenas. And now HTC, a Taiwanese company, has won at least something of a victory against Apple by causing the International Trade Commission to investigate Apple to see if it is infringing on HTC’s patents, according to a story from TechCrunch.
In the U.S., the ITC is a regulatory organization that can restrict the imports of products from foreign businesses that infringe on patents held by U.S. companies. Apple has appealed to the ITC to deal with other companies in the past – the organization is actually considering a ban on Samsung’s smartphones and tablets as part of that ongoing battle – but it’s also a two-way street. As TechCrunch reports, the ITC hasn’t ruled on the merits of HTC’s patent claims yet, it’s only looking into the complaint the company has filed. But that means a patent investigation of Apple products, including tablets, smartphones and computers.
Part of the reason this all is interesting is that it seems Google is waiting in HTC’s corner, and providing a little more than moral support. Some of the patents HTC is accusing Apple of infringing were actually awarded to Google over the summer, not HTC, which suggests Google is lending a hand in the case. Apple and Google haven’t gone to blows directly, but both have been maneuvering around each other to gain the upper hand in terms of patents. The big reason Google made the deal to acquire Motorola earlier this summer was to grab its big trove of patents to help partners fight these legal battles. Meanwhile, Apple joined with Microsoft to acquire a whole bunch of patents from tech company Nortel not too long before that.
The ITC notoriously takes a long time to get stuff done, so don’t expect a ruling on this to come in a timely fashion. But when all the dust finally does settle on all these patent disputes, it’ll be interesting to see what the mobile landscape will look like, and who might be left standing.