Apple steps up legal battle with handset rivals

Apple is suing HTC, the Taiwanese smartphone maker, for infringing 20 of its patents that relate to the iPhone’s user interface, underlying architecture and hardware.

The lawsuit has been filed with both the US International Trade Commission (ITC) and in the US District Court in Delaware.

“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, in a statement. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

In a statement, HTC said that it “values patent rights and their enforcement but is also committed to defending its own technology innovations.” The company said it had not yet had an opportunity to review Apple’s claims.

HTC makes smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, including the Nexus One, designed and sold by Google.

The lawsuit says HTC's phones violate Apple patents covering technology such as recognising the touch of multiple fingers on its screen at once, scrolling through a list with a finger, moving icons, managing power and sensors to detect user activity, and turning a device on and off using a particular gesture.

Google has been steadily adding multitouch capabilities to the Android operating system over the past few months.

Google said in a statement: “We are not a party to this lawsuit. However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it.”

Apple will need to demonstrate the validity of its patents to win its case. There's been plenty of prior art in touch technology, with Palm using the technology for years before Apple launched the iPhone and Synaptics, based in Santa Clara, holding a number of patents related to touch screens.

Winning may not be the point of this case, though. Apple may simply be attacking less powerful companies, such as HTC, in a bid to slow the uptake of Google's Android operating system.  

Apple's move to file the lawsuit in both Delaware and with the ITC is significant. The ITC can act more quickly than a court, and its power to ban imports is often more important than the cash damages possible in a civil case. In October, when Nokia and Apple filed suit and countersuit claiming patent infringement, both companies filed with the ITC in a bid to see imports of their rival's phones blocked.

Apple generated $13bn in sales from the iPhone in the year ended in September, accounting for 30 per cent of total revenue. Industrywide smartphone shipments are expected to increase 46 per cent this year, according to market research firm Gartner. Overall handset sales will rise between 11 per cent and 13 per cent.

HTC's stock closed down 2 per cent in Taipei trading, while the island’s benchmark stock index rose.

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