in Considerations

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal. Apple Sues HTC.

At the end of the day Apple sued an Android mobile phone manufacturer. HTC, but you will have heard that for sure.

On March 2nd, 2010 Apple filed a lawsuit concurrently with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and in U.S. District Court in Delaware.

This is what the offiicial Press Release from Apple was stating.

There is another interesting passage in the press release that is worth noticing:

“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

Nice to hear that, and how could we disagree. Apple built an empire ending up with 34 billion USD in cash according to the last earning report to the analysts. Do you really think they may want to let some put at risk that kind of Intellectual Property investment?

The first funny thing is that in the lawsuit Apple states that HTC would have infringed more than 20 Apple patent.

Well, do you remember this?

Steve Jobs was younger and did not have 34 billion in banks but it's definitely funny to hear these words.

I recommend this great post from Engadget if you want to have a look at the patent list breakdown. You will find it an interesting reading.

According to my opinion the funniest is this one:

Patent #7,657,840 Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image.

Ok guys, this was granted to Apple on February 2nd, 2010. Perfect timing! I can imagine the lawyers sitting in Apple's officies counting on patents and says "guys, we are at 19th, do you know anyone at the Patent Office we make some pressure on to make that 7,657,940 approved? You know, 20 sounds much better than 19".

I cannot really imagine why this patent was granted. Is there any other way apart from performing a gesture on an unlock image to unlock a device? Well, assuming that even text is an image at the end of the day. 

Oh, sure, I can bark at the phone or I can dance the funky chicken with my phone in hand to unlock it.

No, really, don't you think there is something broken in the U.S. patent system?

Sure I do.

Ok, serious now.

Apple has been granted the patents and it is in their right to fight to defend them.

Why HTC?

The first answer is that HTC has not only launched the first Android device on the market but has also manufactured the first Google phone, the Nexus 1. Good enough? Not really.

HTC is a fantastic target for Apple. They are a great high-tech company, but they are not U.S. based and even if they have a decent portfolio of patents (oh yes, they definitely invented something) they do not have great experience in dealing with patent litigations.

The story would have been much different if Apple had targeted someone like Motorola or SonyEricsson. Both of these companies have a great heritage in Intellectual Property and in they past they have fought for that. HTC is much more easier target to start with.

We may think that this is the first step to attack the whole set of Android device manufacturers, starting with an "easy" target in order to hit Google at the end. Now that Android is gaining momentum Apple may be frightened (really?).

If you look at the original document (you may read it here and here) you will notice that in the list of HTC models Apple does not only refer to Android devices, but also to Windows Mobile devices.

We can then say that the attack is a more general one. The attack is targeting all of the smartphone manufacturers.

Bad, bad news.

This kind if litigations usually take ages to come to an end and most of the time the companies involved exchange IPR as a final result.

Nevertheless, it is a sign of weakness on Apple's part.

It may also end up to be a bad thing for consumers. Prices on smartphones may rise and in a more general way innovation in mobile may be slower. We may be able to see Android devices for less than 130 USD by the end of the year and yes, Android is starting to be a valuable alternative to the iPhone. Bringing the lawsuit to an end my raise the price of the Android phones.

Apple can do whatever they want but they have a reputation, and most of their success is built around this reputation. If you remember recent episodes with Foxconn employes suicide, the reporter being beaten in front of Foxconn plant, and the recent discovery of underage workers in Apple third party supplier you may notice that Apple reputation is in danger.

I do love Apple products, this post has been edited on a Mac, which I love, but I would think twice before buying another product from Apple if their reputation will fall and so will do so many other people out there. If Apple will loose that aura of being an immaculate company they will loose customers.

We will see how this story will end.

For the time being it seems that Google had something to say:

"We are not a party to this lawsuit. However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it."

I have been looking around for an official statement from HTC and they have come out with three sentences:

“HTC is a mobile technology innovator and patent holder that has been very focused over the past 13 years on creating many of the most innovative smartphones.”

“HTC believes that consumer choice is a key component to success in the smartphone industry and this is best achieved through multiple suppliers providing a variety of mobile experiences.”

“HTC has focused on offering its customers a uniquely-HTC experience.”

It seems they are still working on that but I hope they will fight, maybe with a little help from Google.

Then comes the iPad. As I have written in the past there will be several alternatives to the iPad coming right away. Is this lawsuit a message to the iPad competitors? Something like: "Be careful what you do. We are watching.".

Definitely yes.

One last consideration.

As you may have noticed there is a lot of activity around IPR in the mobile arena. Kodak, Apple, Nokia, RIM, etc. etc. Everybody is suing each other. It is clear to everybody now that mobile is a big big thing now, and even more in the future.

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  1. HTC is progressing with very high speed. I think they must try to get some help from google to enhance their technology. But overall their progress is going very good. I am very inspired to see their initiatives. I hope they 'll give the best to their consumers.