Apple "victory" over HTC looks more like defeat

Fruity patent troll Apple might not be so happy about its latest victory against HTC.

Apple won an US ITC ruling of narrow technical scope against HTC and the formal order makes it clear that Android products are not included in the general ban.

What Apple wanted was “thermonuclear war” against Android and what it did was to kill off a non-Android product, which will be out of date by the time the ban comes to be enforced in April 2012.

But what is alarming for Apple is that the iTC decided some of its key patents were not valid and the act of playing them in this battle has removed them from play in other battles.

The patents being used in the HTC row involved two claims of a “data tapping patent”. These included a patent on an invention that marks up phone numbers and other types of formatted data in an unstructured document, such as an email, in order to enable users to bring up other programs (such as a dialer app) that process such data.

If anyone can implement this very popular feature, which users of modern-day smartphones really expect, without infringing on the two patent claims the ITC say were infringed, this import ban won’t have any effect. And really they have until the middle of the year to do it.

Either way, this ruling falls far short of anything that would force HTC out of the US market in the near future, which is what Apple needs at this point in the war. Out of ten patents Apple originally waved around the fruity cargo cult only won one. Apple will need a higher “hit rate” in the future, and it will have to enforce patents that are better than this one.

As patent expert Florian Mueller pointed out, this particular patent was only a medium value weapon.

The critical patent on realtime signal processing was not deemed infringed. That one could have had much more impact on HTC and Android than the data tapping patent. This means that Apple has not managed to land the knock out blow it needed.

While Apple has a patent that it can also assert against other Android device makers, it is also one which can be side stepped if Google pulls its finger and writes the work-around code.

Mueller said that for Apple to succeed in its patent trollage it needs to find several more patents of the “data tapping” kind which cannot be worked around.

He thinks that Apple’s lawsuits will eventually become more effective, although at this rate they would have to be.

Apple started suing the world and its dog because its former CEO and Messiah Steve Jobs felt that Android ripped off all his ideas. Rather than try to compete against Android, he unleashed the legal hounds and so far they have not stopped the onslaught.