Apple’s patent-infringement lawsuit against HTC comes at a time when Google Android, the smartphone operating system that will be incorporated into many HTC devices through the end of 2010, has been gaining ground in the ever-hotter smartphone wars.
According to data released by analytics firm Quantcast March 1, the iPhone claimed 63.7 percent of the mobile Web consumption in North America in February, while Research In Motion’s BlackBerry operating system owned 9.2 percent and Android, 15.2 percent. However, that represents a monthly decline for Apple of 3.2 percent, while Android climbed 8.3 percent and RIM rose 13.8 percent.
While those percentages suggest that Apple holds a comfortable lead, data showing increased adoption of Android would support analyst reports from the past year suggesting that Google’s operating system will take an ever-larger share of the mobile market.
If Apple’s lawsuit against HTC, filed with both the U.S. District Court in Delaware and the U.S. International Trade Commission, succeeds in hobbling the flow of HTC devices into the United States-and if Apple files additional lawsuits against other manufacturers-the potential exists for Android’s adoption in the marketplace to be potentially slowed, at least in the near term.
Apple filed a lawsuit against HTC March 2, alleging that the manufacturer violated 20 patents surrounding the iPhone’s interface, architecture and hardware. In a statement posted on his company’s Website that day, Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote: “We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it.”
Jobs added: “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”
HTC unveiled several smartphones running Google Android during January’s Mobile World Congress, including the HTC Desire and HTC Legend. The company already released the HTC Droid Eris in the fourth quarter of 2009, which leverages a full-size touch screen for user interaction, alongside the Motorola Droid.
Apple is engaged in patent-infringement action on a number fronts, having been locked since October 2009 in a legal back-and-forth with Nokia over supposed violation of intellectual property. Nokia had originally begun seeking royalties on its patents from Apple in May 2009, following that with legal action after Apple reportedly refused to negotiate.
On top of that, Apple is involved in a lawsuit with Kodak, which claims that both Apple and BlackBerry maker RIM infringed on Kodak’s patent for previewing images with their built-in camera modules. Kodak filed two lawsuits over the issue in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York Jan. 16.
“Legal claims followed by multiple counterclaims are commonplace, and they can drag out the legal process for some time,” Neil Mawston, an analyst with Strategy Analytics, told eWEEK in January. “It seems Nokia and Apple have been unable to agree on licensing terms in private over the past few months, so both firms have resorted to legal action in public courts as a next step.”
Apple’s battle against Nokia, not to mention its long-running legal entanglement with Microsoft throughout the 1990s, suggests that if the HTC lawsuit reaches the courtroom it could turn into a long and drawn-out affair. To avoid such costly action, tech companies often sign cross-licensing agreements; however, Apple’s goals in this matter may not be settled by an out-of-court settlement.