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ITC Deals HTC Setback in Apple Patent War

Things don't look great for HTC Android devices. For the second time in a couple months, the ITC has decided in favor of Apple.

While Apple continues business as usual with the launch of iOS 5, iCloud, and the iPhone 4S, and Android marches on with the unveiling of Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich", a war between iOS and Android is being waged in courtrooms around the world. In one of those battles--between Apple and HTC--it seems that Apple has the upper hand following a decision from the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

Earlier this year an ITC Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded that HTC does, in fact, infringe on two Apple patents. That preliminary decision is now being reviewed by the full six-member commission. If the decision is upheld, HTC could be banned from importing its Android handsets to the United States before the end of the year.

During the review process, parties are allowed to submit statements explaining the possible impact of any import ban, and any potential effect it might have on the public interest. Google and T-Mobile both entered pleas on behalf of HTC claiming that any injunction against HTC would be against the public interest. The assertion predicts that banning the offending HTC handsets will have an adverse impact on jobs, and certain professions that rely on HTC Andrdoid smartphones for communication.

The ITC Office of Unfair Import Investigations (OUII) rejected those claims and supported Apple's counter-argument that there are a variety of alternative Android smartphones available. It also noted that there are other smartphone platforms such as Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango"--which HTC also manufactures smartphones for.

Personally, I don't think that public interest should play into the decision anyway. HTC is either violating Apple patents, or it is not. Would we excuse a bank robber from paying for his crime as long as the stolen money went to support the public good? I don't think so.

Florian Mueller, an intellectual property and patent analyst, points out in a blog post, "Public interest issues were also raised in federal court in connection with Apple's motion for a preliminary injunction against four Android-based Samsung products."

Mueller believes that a decision on that motion is imminent, and expects it within the next week. If the ITC rules in Apple's favor regarding an import injunction against HTC Android smartphones and/or Samsung Android smartphones, it will significantly impact Android sales, and could have cascading repercussions affecting the outcome of other pending patent litigation between Apple and Android.

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