Eight Naïve Questions About Apple’s Suit Against HTC

By  |  Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm

I’m not a reflexive enemy of the U.S. patent system. But having spent the day mulling over Apple’s lawsuit against HTC over smartphone-related patents, it still feels like the move is bad for consumers, bad for any smartphone-related company that isn’t headquartered in Cupertino–and quite possibly bad for Apple, too.

Now that this shoe has dropped, you gotta think that lots of other shoes are poised to drop all over Silicon Valley and Asia. Here are some questions I’m scratching my head over tonight. I suspect some people will maintain that the answers are obvious, but they’re not (yet) obvious to me…

1. If Apple wins, what does it mean for other companies’ phones? Could rival makers artfully work around Apple patents and produce handsets that tippy-toe up to the legal line without crossing it?  Or would there be a bunch of cool features that every other manufacturer would have to abandon?

2. What does Apple want? The lawsuit says it wants the court to tell HTC to stop making phones that infringe on Apple patents, and to fork over a wad of cash to Apple of unspecified size. But would Apple be equally happy collecting a royalty on every HTC phone and/or setting up some sort of patent cross-licensing agreement? Does it plan to sue every company on the planet that has anything to do with a phone that sports any feature outlined in an Apple patent?

3. What does this mean for future versions of Android? At the crazy rate at which Android evolves, there will be new versions out well before any sort of verdict. Will Google and phone manufacturers neuter them to avoid ticking off Apple even more, or will they continue on their merry way until a judge orders them to do otherwise?

4, What does it mean for Apple’s relationship with Google? We already knew that the two companies were buddies no more. Now Apple is going after Google’s Android OS by way of the hardware manufacturer that embraced it first. Can it continue to sell an iPhone 3GS with multiple bits and pieces of Google DNA, including Google as its default search engine, Gmail integration, Google Maps data, and a YouTube app? Will Apple find replacements? Will Google want to yank its stuff?

5. What about Palm? Until now, it’s been the iPhone competitor that folks most often speculated might suffer Apple’s legal wrath. Like I say, I’m not fit to render legal opinions on anything, but WebOS sure has features which feel similar to ones mentioned in Apple patents such as this. Will it get sued? Will it get scared?

6, Will other phone companies freak out? They might decide to steer clear of features that feel even kinda-sorta like ones detailed in Apple patents, just to reduce the chances of winding up in court. Even if the case agains HTC isn’t resolved one way or another any time soon–and maybe even if HTC wins.

7. What does this mean for Apple? I tend to associate software-related lawsuits with companies whose hubris has exceeded their product-development chops. (Lotus, a once-great firm, devoted much effort in the late 1980s and early 1990s to suing other spreadsheet developers–if it had focused on writing software rather than filing lawsuits, we might all be using 1-2-3 to this day.) Apple remains the most inventive single producer of personal-tech products on the planet, but this just doesn’t feel like a great sign.

And here’s question #8: What are your thoughts about all this?


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Se7en Says:

    Well, not a fan of software patents. But how about other companies just innovate instead of copy? Go look at the original Android phone, circa 2007. It was a blackberry knockoff, not an iPhone knockoff. Now look at the Nexus One. There is nothing magical about a full touchscreen/no keyboard/multitouch phone-lots of other options still to be explored, rather than just following.

  2. tom b Says:

    “Or would there be a bunch of cool features that every other manufacturer would have to abandon?”

    Probably. The better for my AAPL stock– and for consumers. Why go for cheap, knock-off junk when a real iPhone can be had for not much money?

    “Does [Apple] plan to sue every company on the planet that has anything to do with a phone that sports any feature outlined in an Apple patent?”

    I sure would. Doesn’t MSFT get a cut of every PC sold, whether it ends up ultimately as a Windows machine or LINUX? Not a bad deal for them.

  3. swildstrom Says:

    It’s worth remembering that patent cases typically take something like 10 years from filing to final resolution. Mostly, however, they are settled, usually by a cross-licensing agreement. My guess is the next move will be a countersuit by HTC alleging patent violations by Apple. The nasty moment will come if Apple persuades the International Trade Commission to enjoin the importation of some HTC handsets. But even that won’t really mean much. Ask Nokia or Qualcomm.

    We’ll be very bored with this one before it’s over.

  4. IcyFog Says:

    I’m not a fan of lawsuits either.
    Harry, where where these anti-lawsuit themed posts when Nokia and others sued Apple first?

  5. JohnFen Says:

    “Why go for cheap, knock-off junk when a real iPhone can be had for not much money?”

    Because then you could avoid having to support a company like Apple, which is a worthy thing. (If you object to Microsoft you must also object to Apple.)

  6. tom b Says:

    “(If you object to Microsoft you must also object to Apple.)”

    How so? One company makes over-rated; excessively-priced for what you get; buggy products. The other company, Apple, makes great stuff, including the most usable, feature-complete UNIX out there.

    One company has a paid army of operatives twisting your arm to use their products (MSFT; Enterprise IT). The other company is self-made; with self-invented products; and self-inspired customers.

    BTW: nothing against Google. I have some of their stock, too. But they should stick to what they actually DECENT at, search / advertising. As for HTC; they are just tools.

  7. Lincoln Spector Says:

    This isn’t the first time Apple has used software-related lawsuits to gain a monopoly. Around the same time that Lotus was suing Borland, Apple sued Microsoft, claiming the Windows UI was a rip-off of the Mac. If I recall correctly, they lost.

  8. NickAVV Says:

    I’m fully behind HTC and Google on this one. I want an android phone wicked bad. 😛

  9. IcyFog Says:

    Why isn’t the Nokia lawsuit against Apple perceived as bad as the Appple lawsuit against HTC?

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