Some HTC products will be blocked from being imported to the US from April 19, 2012 after the International Trade Commission found that the company infringed Apple patents.
However, the ITC's order may not have much impact on HTC's ability to sell products in the US. Yesterday, the company said that it had created alternatives to the patented technology. A revised statement shortly afterward called the technology minor and said HTC would soon eliminate it from all its handsets. It was not immediately clear whether the statement referred to removing the feature itself or just the patented technology.
The limited exclusion order against the Taiwan-based phone maker and two of its US subsidiaries, announced yesterday, closed the ITC's patent infringement proceedings that began in April 2010 after a complaint by Apple.
HTC cannot import the devices using the technology after April 19, though it will be able to bring in refurbished units until December 19, 2013, to replace existing devices under warranty or insurance settlements.
The ITC had found that HTC had violated certain claims of some patents that Apple cited, but not others. The agency said its order and opinion were delivered to President Barack Obama, who now has the opportunity to overturn the decision. The agency said it decided not to issue a cease and desist order during a period for presidential review.
Apple originally had accused HTC of infringing 20 patents and filed a so-called Section 337 complaint, which alleged unfair importation practices. Apple claimed several of those same patents in a suit against Nokia, which the companies ultimately settled out of court. And the case was the first of several in which Apple has attacked makers of devices using Google's Android OS.
The set of claims was reduced over time, and in September the ITC's ruling Commission reviewed the final decision by an administrative law judge. The Commission found that HTC had violated the law with two products that infringed claims one or eight of US Patent 5,946,647 "System and Method for Performing an Action on a Structure in Computer-Generated Data."
That patent covers "data tapping," a way to mark up phone numbers and other information in unstructured data, such as email messages, so that users can click on those items to activate other software, according to Florian Mueller, a technology law expert and activist. If HTC had to remove that capability, it would be at a competitive disadvantage against Apple and even other Android phone makers, Mueller explained yesterday. But HTC dodged a ruling against it on real-time signal processing, which could have had a bigger impact on the company and on other Android phone makers, he wrote.