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Apple Gets HTC Android Phones Banned in US
The ruling is so narrow that it may not make much of a difference

After a couple of delays, the International Trade Commission finally decided Monday that HTC and its Android phones infringe an Apple patent and will be banned from sale in the United States. But the ruling is so narrow that it may not make much of a difference.

In fact, HTC is playing the decision as its victory.

Apple started with 10 patents but won on only two claims in one patent and, in a concession to carriers, the ban won't start until April 19, giving HTC more time than usual to come up with a workaround that it claims it already has or at least is working on.

Meanwhile, it said it intends to comply with the order "as soon as possible and sell non-infringing products." Presumably it needs to avoid any slowdown in carrier orders. It's already pulled in Q4 guidance because of competition.

Which phones are implicated in the decision isn't clear yet.

The ban only impacts HTC phones whose users can tap the screen to dial a number in an e-mail or schedule an appointment on the day mentioned in an e-mail or text message (unstructured data don't you know) or save a number in an e-mail to their contact list or do other things. The phones have to implement it the way Apple's "data tapping" patent teaches or it doesn't count.

HTC called it a "small UI experience," but smartphones are expected to have such features so their absence will put HTC at a competitive disadvantage. It remains to be seen how popular its solution to the problem will be. The problem of course is also Google's.

Although an ITC administrative law judge decided this summer that HTC infringed on two Apple patents, the agency's six commissioners, who reviewed his decision, didn't see it that way.

What they threw out - besides to two other claims in the data tapping patent - was a much broader real-time signal processing patent that according to FOSS Patents "could have had much more impact on HTC and, more generally, Android than the data tapping patent."

The blog figures Apple will need to press a bunch of patents like the data tapping patent to hobble Android, which now accounts for better than half the phones sold worldwide to iPhone's ~15%.

Apple has also accused HTC of patent infringement in federal court and HTC has returned the favor. HTC has its own complaints against Apple on file with the ITC.

The commissioners' three-page decision is at http://www.usitc.gov/secretary/fed_reg_notices/337/337_710_Notice12192011sgl.pdf.

A presidential veto of the order in HTC's favor in the next 60 days is considered unlikely.

About Maureen O'Gara
Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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