Apple’s patent infringement case against HTC has been upheld by the United States International Trade Commission. Apple accused HTC’s Android phones of harnessing ideas patented in the 1990s, and is pursuing a similar ruling against Motorola.
The Infringement Claim Charts are detailed in this Foss Patents blog post. To infringe the first of the patents a device has to recognise patterns in data – such as phone numbers, URLs and street addresses – and provide and execute options for acting on that data – such as making a phone call, opening a web page or viewing a map. The second patent is infringed where a device’s core processing system couples multiple services such as audio and video through an abstraction layer.
Two things are clear.
The first thing that’s clear is that these patents are infringed by all Android handsets. Whether Apple will achieve a similar result against Motorola in a different court remains to be seen. But there is now precedent for such a decision, and the infringements aren’t the work of the phone manufacturers: they’re baked into the Android operating system itself.
The second thing that’s clear is that most devices infringe these patents. I’ve owned phones from Nokia, Blackberry and Sony Ericsson which recognise phone numbers and URLs in text and email messages. In fact I’m sure both patents are infringed by any current phone manufacturer and mobile operating system you care to name.
Without these two paradigms all computer devices would be clunkier and less intuitive. That’s not just mobile phones: computer use increasingly relies to some extent on the principles being argued over here. Does Apple intend to extend its legal battle to laptops running Windows 8? If this is a limited vendetta against Android phones, is there any guarantee it’ll stop there?
Imagine the market edge if only Apple computers were allowed to seamlessly detect patterns in your data, propose action options and execute them. On your Macbook or iPad an address in an email message can be highlighted, and you can be given the option of viewing it on a map which then displays automatically. But on your Windows laptop or tablet you’ll have to open the map software or web page and copy or type in the address details once you’ve found them.
Although the patents imply origination, Apple cannot claim they thought of these ideas first. Parallel concepts were in use – in software – before the patents were applied for. And I write applications every day (well, most days) which use both these principles.
Thus far at least Apple is only targeting device manufacturers. It appears not to be doing so as a revenue-gathering exercise: reports say it’s unlikely to grant HTC licenses to legally utilise these patents. This means HTC and other phone manufacturers will have to make significant changes to their devices, possibly even leaving the Android fold altogether, or lose the right to sell these phones in the United States.
This court decision will be a sad one if it reduces innovation in the fiercely competitive mobile phone market. As an Android user I’ll be personally upset if future phones offer less functionality than the one I have now. I’m hoping commonsense will prevail.