HTC and Nokia did not violate Apple's technology patents on the iPhone, according to an initial report by the staff of the U.S. International Trade Commission. While the findings are not binding, the report does deal a severe blow to Apple, which is seeking to stop HTC and Nokia from selling smartphones that the company believes steals from the iPhone's design.
Apple and Taiwan-based smartphone maker HTC had their first day in court April 18, as the ITC trial got under way. Apple first filed its complaint with the ITC in March 2010.
The ITC staff, which acts on behalf of the public as a third party, found that neither HTC nor Nokia-which has also been accused of violating Apple patents-should be found liable of infringing on Apple's patents, according to a report from Bloomberg. The staff's recommendations are taken into consideration but are not binding.
Bloomberg reports that there are more than a dozen smartphone-related cases currently before the ITC, and that this is the first to reach this stage. Apple is claiming that HTC infringes on five patents related to the integration of smartphone hardware and software, and is looking to ban the import of HTC smartphones running Google's Android operating system.
Apple lawyer Greg Arovas argued, according to the report, that "what makes Apple products so successful is not just what you see, but what's under the hood."
HTC lawyer Robert Van Nest, meanwhile, painted a picture of HTC's history in the industry.
"HTC is a smartphone innovator and pioneer in the smartphone sphere-they were there long before Apple," Van Nest said, according to Bloomberg. "The fundamental differences from the Apple patents represent choices made by HTC and Google."
A lawyer for Nokia, Pat Flinn, added that the Apple iPhone doesn't even make use of the technology described by the patent-and developed in the early 1990s-but that Apple simply decided to "dredge up patents."
On Aug. 5 Judge Carl Charneski is scheduled to reveal his findings, which will then be subject to a review by all six members of the Commission.
Following its filing of the suit in early 2010, Apple released a March 2 press statement in which Apple CEO Steve Jobs asserted, "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."
HTC responded in a March 17 statement, saying that it disagreed with Apple's actions and planned to "fully defend itself."
"HTC strongly advocates intellectual property protection and will continue to respect other innovators and their technologies as we have always done, but we will continue to embrace competition through our own innovation as a healthy way for consumers to get the best mobile experience possible," HTC CEO Peter Chou said in the statement. He went on to detail several of HTC's industry milestones, including the release of the world's first 3.5-inch color touch-screen smartphone in 2002. (The first iPhone debuted June 29, 2007.)
In May, HTC filed its own patent-infringement suit against Apple, accusing it of infringing on five patents.
"As an innovator of the original Windows Mobile PocketPC Phone Edition in 2002 and the first Android smartphone in 2008, HTC believes the industry should be driven by healthy competition and innovation that offer consumers the best, most accessible mobile experiences possible," Jason Mackenzie, HTC's vice president for North America, said in a May 12, 2010 statement. "We are taking this action against Apple to protect our intellectual property, our industry partners and, most importantly, our customers that use HTC phones."
According to Bloomberg, the HTC case is scheduled to begin May 9-a week after the Apple case should be completed-before a different ITC judge.
Nokia's and Apple's patent-infringement claims against each other are numerous and varied and go back to October 2009, when Nokia filed a suit pertaining to 10 of its patents related to GSM, UMTS and WLAN communication standards.
Ilkka Rahnasto, vice president of Nokia's legal and intellectual property division, said in a statement at the time, "Apple is attempting to get a free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation."