Apple Sues HTC Over iPhone Interface, Hardware

Apple filed a lawsuit against HTC, claiming that the device-maker violated 20 of its patents related to iPhone interface, architecture and hardware. This represents the latest patent-infringement battle for Apple, which is currently locked in similar legal maneuverings with Nokia and Kodak. HTC demonstrated several smartphones at January's Mobile World Congress that featured a full touch screen reminiscent of the iPhone's, and Apple's lawsuit could focus on those similarities. Companies often avoid patent-infringement lawsuits through cross-licensing deals, but can also resort to legal action in order to meet broader business goals.

Apple is claiming that HTC violated 20 of its patents surrounding the iPhone's interface, architecture and hardware, in a lawsuit filed March 2 with the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. District Court in Delaware.

"We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it," Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote in a March 2 statement posted on Apple's Website. "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

HTC unveiled several smartphones at January's Mobile World Congress show that feature a full touch screen, including the HTC HD2, HTC Desire, and the HTC Legend. Its HTC Droid Eris, released alongside the Motorola Droid in the fourth quarter of 2009, also utilizes a full touch screen with a minimum of mechanical buttons. Apple's lawsuit may focus on HTC's use of this particular form-factor, which is reminiscent of the iPhone.

Click here for more information on HTC's MWC smartphone debuts.

The lawsuit would not be the first filed by Apple against another handset maker in recent months. Since October 2009, Apple and Nokia have been filing back-and-forth complaints over patent infringement, with Apple requesting that the International Trade Commission ban Nokia from importing phones that allegedly violated its intellectual property.

"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."

Nokia has entered into licensing agreements for its mobile technology with around 40 companies, and apparently began seeking royalties from Apple in May 2009. Apple reportedly refused to negotiate, leading Nokia to file its complaint and begin the chain-reaction of legal action.

Meanwhile, if these companies' legal firms hadn't been racking up enough billable hours, the International Trade Commission decided to open an investigation in January into Kodak's claim that both Research In Motion, makers of the popular BlackBerry line, and Apple had violated its intellectual property related to digital cameras. Kodak claimed that those companies' smartphones featured built-in camera modules that infringed a Kodak patent for previewing images. Kodak filed two suits on Jan. 16 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.

Companies can avoid these sort of intellectual-property lawsuits through cross-licensing agreements, which occasionally have the side benefit of forging stronger partnerships between ostensible rivals. and Microsoft, for example, recently agreed to allow each other access to patents covering a wide range of technology. However, patent-infringement suits can also be utilized to meet business goals.