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HTC to Apple: We can litigate and innovate, too!

The inevitable sequel to Apple suing HTC over a variety of smartphone-related patents arrived today when HTC countersued Apple over a handful of smartphone-related patents.



Sorry, I just can't work up much energy writing about patent ping-pong these days.

In this case, it's as difficult as ever to guess the validity of HTC's claims. Its news release cites five patents but provides no details about them. Copies of its filing (PDF) with the U.S. International Trade Commission specify patents governing power management and phone and address-book software; I couldn't tell you if Apple's devices infringe on them, but Engadget's intellectual-property-law guru Nilay Patel doesn't seem to think too much of HTC's case.

Either way, asking any government body to "halt the importation and sale of the iPhone, iPad and iPod in the United States" does seem like it would be a tall order.

To plead its case in the court of Web opinion, Taoyuan, Taiwan-based HTC also posted a video, titled "A quietly brilliant story," that touts its work in mobile devices over the past dozen years.

The clip reveals some interesting historical tidbits, including its work building some of Compaq's iPaq handheld organizers. (Anybody still using one of those?) But since more than half of it is devoted to HTC's work in Windows Mobile--the operating system Microsoft is punting in favor of the rewritten Windows Phone 7--it's not as convincing as it could be.

The video is also not as convincing as HTC's current hardware, such as its seriously impressive Droid Incredible Android phone.

Considering the high odds that these back-and-forth lawsuits will do nothing to promote the progress of smartphone design, I'd rather see these companies compete on technical grounds. But I guess their lawyers have bills to pay, too.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 12, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Mobile , Policy and politics  
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Oh yes, those poor lawyers and their outrageous boat payments and the upkeep in their (devalued) mansions. [snif!]

Posted by: bata4689 | May 12, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a lawyer but I know a little about patents. I took a cursory look at the first one, what they call the "800" patent, for power management. First, I note it was applied for in 2003 and issued in 2006. Second, I note claim 1, which is usually the most important claim, and described in part in the abstract, is for, basically, simple power control modes including sleep mode and standby mode that have been around for, like, 30 years or so. So, you have a prior-art issue. You can get a patent issued, but if it covers something that was already around when the patent was filed for and issued, it is not enforceable in court. Yes, claim 1 is more complicated than just sleep mode, but it kind of looks like wordplay and verbal flourishes, and not substance. Sort of like, "What can I do to get sleep mode past the overworked patent examiners at the patent office?" OK, there are a couple additional bells and whistles, but I don't see the value of this patent.

The other patents . . . telephone directories? Are you kidding me? Same thing.

I'm not looking at them all, but I have seen this before. I bet this will collapse under prior art examination. They may try to settle with Apple, and unfortunately Apple may find in more economical to pay off HTC to go away. I will be shocked if this goes to court and HTC wins.

There are a lot of garbage patents being shoveled out of the patent office these days. There needs to be patent reform. Don't blame the patent examiners. They are good but overworked.

Don't give up on patent coverage. Even with all the nonsense they can give companies a long-term strategic advantage. They can be interesting, too.

I have not looked at Apple's patents in its suit. I expect they are more enforceable.

Posted by: Bob_Dobbs | May 12, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

The patent examiners have an average of 15 hours to make a determination of whether a patent should be issued (after the 2-3 year patent-pending queue due to the backlog).

If someone has a patent (whether most of it would be invalid due to prior art) and their lawyers can convince a judge that someone is violating their patent, then the judge can issue certain types of restraining orders. In some situations, these restraining orders are clearly justified and shut down or substantially alter the operations of the 'alleged' patent offender.

An extreme case was the ruling against Research in Motion (RIM - Blackberry) where the judge's initial ruling shut down major operations of RIM. Whether right or wrong, RIM could not wait and paid the other company $600 million because they could pass the cost on to their customers.

Posted by: jmjm1 | May 13, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

What is amazing to me is that this sort of abuse of our federal court system is not decried as worse than the abuse of tort suits. For many "IP" type businesses, patent and copyright litigation is the entire business plan.

Posted by: eddiehaskel | May 13, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

The problem, as I see it, with these software related patents is that they are so broad brush. I suspect that even those that apply for them don't really know what they encompass. At the same time they write them that way so they can create a problem for any other company that has any possible idea that they think could be close to their idea. It is all a big game that one day will need to be resolved.

Posted by: gmclain | May 13, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Pegoraro seems rather wrong on many accounts here. This isn't about paying bills for lawyers as he suggests, but about return on investment for R&D. Nobody would spend billions on R&D for new products if other companies could just copy the result. This concept was already well understood when the patent offices were first created more than 200 years ago. Regurgitating the populist view of patents existing solely for greedy lawyers seems absurd for somebody associated with a serious newspaper.

It is by contrast fairly reasonably to say that exactly because of the reward of patent protection, today's smart phones have the capabilities they do. And it is also fair to say that precisely because of patents, not all phones are now produced by cheap Chinese cloners.

Apple for example is exceedingly good at execution and marketing, but their R&D effort in the phone area has been rather lacking until very recently. Most of what is in their devices is hence the result of R&D expenditures by others. It's no more than reasonable that the inventors of the technology used by Apple get to share in Apple's profits.

Lastly, Patel may be an "intellectual property law guru", but I personally find both his HTC and Apple case analysis laughably shallow. Without detailed analysis of the claims and consideration of actual infringement, it's impossible to draw any conclusions from his statements. In my view, any engineering freshman could have written that type of assessment.

Posted by: lagging | May 13, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

"Nobody would spend billions on R&D for new products if other companies could just copy the result. "

Yes this is why we have copyright laws that prevent COPYING.

It has been shown over and over again that patents don't encourage innovation in technology. $$$ is the ONLY encouragement that really works.

Really you are disingenuous if you think that any of these patents are "novel" at all.

All of this stuff was patented for "real" computers years ago, it seem like one can just dust off the old patent and replace "desktop" with "palmtop" and resubmit the patent again.

"It is by contrast fairly reasonably to say that exactly because of the reward of patent protection, today's smart phones have the capabilities they do."

No, they have these capabilities because they are nothing more than miniaturized versions of computers that have been around for years and already have these features.

"And it is also fair to say that precisely because of patents, not all phones are now produced by cheap Chinese cloners."

Well that is pretty funny because ALL of the phones are INDEED made by cheap Chinese cloners.

Posted by: frantaylor | May 13, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

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