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Apple's Patent Win: Just a Feather in Its Cap?

Apple's Patent Win: Just a Feather in Its Cap?

The ITC's decision to ban certain HTC phones from the U.S. was certainly a win for Apple, but whether it will truly cripple a rival's U.S. sales remains to be seen. HTC has options: Develop around the patented technology, or simply remove it from the concerned phones. It also has time -- the ban won't go into effect for four months.

By Rachelle Dragani MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
12/21/11 5:00 AM PT

In a decision 20 months in the making, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Monday that, starting in April, certain HTC smartphones cannot be imported into the U.S. due to a violation of one of Apple's patents.

Apple had alleged that HTC was violating 10 technology patents, though the ITC ruled that the Taiwanese smartphone maker was infringing on just one, a data tapping feature. It allows users to tap, for instance, a date, address, or phone number in the text of an e-mail or text message and open those digits in a feature such as a map to help find an address or dial a phone numbers.

However, due in part to the span of time until the ban is enacted, the decision isn't expected to be immediately devastating to HTC's Android-based devices.

The Way Around

"Patents are not invincible. The claims of the patent, the heart of the legal exclusivity, have limits. By omitting the infringing feature, HTC and any other company can avoid the draconian effects of an exclusion order. Of course, if a patent covers a key product feature, this may be impossible," Ray Van Dyke, a technology and IP attorney in Washington, D.C. told MacNewsWorld.

But the ruling gives HTC a buffer zone to regroup. The company has time for a redesign between now and April to eliminate the feature or design it so that it isn't infringing on a patent.

"U.S. patent laws encourage legitimate design around, which in the end increases the wealth of human knowledge. Thus, if HTC can merely omit the feature found infringing, then their market share for the Android could be preserved. If not, then that market share is up for grabs," said Van Dyke.

In addition, in case the company isn't able to redo the feature, HTC has from now until April to sell as many of the banned devices that it can.

"Another remedy in ITC cases is a cease and desist order, which would immediately ban all sales and importations. That order was not granted -- in favor of a transition period. Thus, existing products in the US are not affected, but could later be found infringing in a U.S. federal court action," said Van Dyke.

HTC and Apple didn't respond to our requests for further comments.

Explosions Hurt iPad 2 Production

An explosion at the Pegatron plant in Shanghai injured 60 workers recently, spurring an investigation. The development is expected to slow iPad 2 production to the degree that the company might be unable to meet demand.

Early reports indicate that aluminum dust might have been the cause for the explosion. A Foxconn explosion in Chengdu, China, earlier in the year, also reportedly from aluminum dust, killed three workers and also led to supply delays. Chinese labor advocates have expressed concern about the ongoing problems with worker conditions. Apple is looking to new areas, including Brazil, to continue manufacturing the devices, according to a report from Forbes.

Supply lines have also been upset by natural disasters this year. When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last spring, Apple and other electronics makers faced shortages and delays.

Anobit Goes Through

Apple's $500 million deal with Anobit, an Israeli company that makes backup and flash products for data center use, was completed Tuesday, Apple's first Israeli buy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted "Wecome to Israel, Apple Inc. on your first acquisition here. I'm certain that you'll benefit from the fruit of Israeli knowledge."

Apple has been eyeing the company for some time, and it hopes to set up semiconductor development in Israel.

The Vanishing Spies

Apple was spared much of the furor over Carrier IQ, the software found in many smartphones that's capable of snooping on users' actions. Even before Senator Al Franken took action, Apple had already announced most of its iPhones would be rid of the data collection software. Sprint followed suit late last week.

"On the one hand, collecting device performance information helps operators provide consumers with better services; on the other, it raises the trust and privacy temperature of consumers. If the industry doesn't police itself, we will be headed for government intervention. This is the worst of all possible scenarios. Apple's disclosures were both prudent and responsible," Bob Egan, VP of mobile strategy at Mobiquity and analyst at GigaOM Pro, told MacNewsWorld.


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