Apple scored a minor victory in its battle against Google Android, with the International Trade Commission (ITC) banning certain HTC smartphones from import in April 2012. However, observers believe HTC will have little trouble altering its devices in order to sidestep the ban.
The patent in question, considered a minor one by analysts, concerns the ability to dial a phone number in an email or text by tapping on it. "We believe there are workarounds available to HTC, and HTC has noted that it can quickly remove the feature," Peter Misek, an analyst with research firm Jefferies & Co., wrote in a coauthored note Dec. 20. "A prior ruling that HTC was infringing one of Apple's broader patents was overturned."
In other words, Apple hasn't exactly crippled HTC's efforts in the United States. "This ruling falls far short of anything that would force HTC out of the U.S. market in the near term," patent expert Florian Mueller wrote in a Dec. 19 posting on his FOSS Patents blog. "Out of ten patents originally asserted, Apple finally managed to enforce one, and it's one of medium value."
Apple is embroiled in several legal battles over Android. "In the real world, there's a race going on for the first decision of major disruptive impact, and the ten patents Apple initially selected for this first ITC complaint were clearly chosen for that purpose," Mueller continued. "A knock-out blow is a must-have, not merely a nice-to-have, when you're embroiled in a race for leverage with a view to settlement negotiations."
It remains to be seen whether Apple will use this legal victory as leverage against HTC or other Android device makers. According to Walter Isaacson's bestselling biography, the very existence of Android drove Apple co-founder Steve Jobs into a white-hot fury, in which he pledged "thermonuclear war" against what he termed a "stolen product."
In a meeting with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Jobs supposedly refused to accept any sort of Android-related payout: "I don't want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want."
Although Jobs died in October following a long battle with cancer, Apple is evidently continuing its crusade to shut down Android however and wherever it can. The question now is whether other legal battles can translate into more of a marketplace impact than this latest HTC decision.