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.

  • Blog Lit­er­a­ture

    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.