Seattle: Taiwanese cell phone maker HTC Corp is filing a patent complaint against Apple Inc. over its popular gadgets, escalating a legal dispute as new smart phones are threatening the iPhone’s supremacy.
HTC, which makes the Droid Incredible and other phones running competing Android software from Google Inc., said it filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission on Wednesday seeking to block US sales of the iPhone, iPod and iPad devices.
Apple filed its own lawsuits against HTC in March, saying HTC’s cell phones violate 20 of Apple’s iPhone patents. Apple’s complaints were made before the trade commission and in US District Court in Delaware.
None of the complaints is likely to block sales of any products any time soon. Patent disputes are common among technology companies and often take years to resolve. The cases often lead to licensing agreements rather than outright bans on imports, as HTC is seeking in its complaint. Apple’s products are typically made overseas.
The wild success of the first iPhone, which launched in 2007, prompted other cell phone makers to rush out touch-screen smart phones of their own in a bid to lure consumers, not just business users attached to their BlackBerry phones.
At the end of 2009, iPhones made up about 14% of smart phones sold worldwide, according to the research group Gartner Inc. Apple closed the gap with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd., which had 20% of sales. But Android phones, while accounting for only 4% of sales, grew at a faster rate than Apple last year.
HTC did not immediately say what patents it believes Apple has violated. The company said in its news release only that five patents were involved.
Android phones, like the iPhone, support multitouch screens. Users sweep their fingers across the screens, and different “gestures” stand for different commands.
Among the patents singled out by Apple is one that lets a device’s screen detect more than one finger touch at a time, for instance, allowing someone to zoom in or out by spreading their fingers apart or pinching them together. Another patent refers to technology that helps a device react to information about its surroundings gathered by sensors.
Apple, which is based in California, had no comment on HTC’s complaint, other than to point to its own legal actions against the cell phone maker.
HTC signed a patent-licensing agreement with Microsoft Corp. in April, presumably to avoid a legal tussle with another of the computer industry’s biggest players.
Even though Google’s software powers Android phones, hardware makers such as HTC will bear the brunt of the legal actions. Industry experts say that has historically been the case.
They also note that HTC is an easier target than Google for US lawsuits. A direct challenge to Google could devolve into a broader dispute over the open-source software approach that Google espouses. That approach involves letting a community of programmers freely use and improve the Android software. By contrast, Apple supports a closed system in which it retains legal rights and controls.
Even if a legal decision is a long time coming, Apple’s move against HTC could tamp down other mobile phone manufacturers’ enthusiasm for Android if it seems hefty legal fees could erase the gains from using free software from Google.