HTC smartphone

Apple ends patent war with HTC after 10 year legal battle

Apple and HTC have ended their worldwide legal battles with a 10-year patent licensing agreement.

However, HTC declined to answer a critical question: whether all of Apple's patents were covered by the deal.

The Apple vs. HTC case is an enormously important issue for the broader smartphone patent wars. If all the Apple patents are included – such as the "user experience" patents that the company has previously insisted it would not license – it could undermine the iPhone maker's efforts to permanently ban the sale of products that copy its technology.

Samsung, who could be facing a sales ban following a crushing jury verdict against it in August, asked a US judge last week to force Apple to turn over a copy of the HTC agreement.

Samsung have argued in a court filing they are "almost certain" that the HTC deal covers some of the patents involved in its own litigation with Apple.

Representatives for Apple and Samsung could not immediately be reached for comment.

Court judges remain reluctant to block the sale of products if the dispute can be resolved via a licensing agreement. Apple must show the copying of its technology caused irreparable harm in order to secure their injunction against Samsung. They must also prove that remuneration is an inadequate remedy in itself.

Managing director of Inflexion Point Strategy and veteran IP lawyer, Ron Laurie, predicted it will be highly unlikely that HTC would agree to a settlement that did exclude all the patents.

HTC declined to comment.

Laurie, along with other experts, believe that if the deal included all patents this as a sign that new Apple CEO Tim Cook is taking a radically different approach than the company’s predecessor, Steve Jobs.

The first Apple case again HTC was in March 2010 and has been litigating for more than two years against handset manufacturers who use Google's Android operating system. Apple co-founder Jobs promised to go "thermonuclear" on Android.

After this, the threat has manifested in Apple's repeated bids for court-imposed bans on the sale of its rivals' phones.

In contrast, Cook has shown a preference to settle rather than litigate if the terms are reasonable. Earlier to this, Apple showed little willingness to license its patents to an Android maker.

As of August a Northern California jury handed Apple a $1.05bn verdict, finding that Samsung's phones violated a series of Apple's software and design patents. Apple swiftly requested US District Judge Lucy Koh to impose a permanent sales ban on those Samsung phones.

A hearing is scheduled for next month in San Jose, California.

In an unpredicted announcement over the weekend, Apple and HTC publicised a license agreement covering "current and future patents" at both companies. The details of the terms remain unknown, though insiders have speculated that HTC will pay Apple somewhere between $5 and $10 per phone.

In addition, Apple and Google are in talks over who to arbitrate some patent claims, which would put at least part of its global courtroom battle on hold. This comes via court documents filed last week.

In the midst of the Samsung trial, Boris Teksler, Apple IP chief, claimed the company is generally willing to license many of its patents – except for those that cover what he called Apple's "unique user experience" like touchscreen functionality and design.

Teksler has acknowledged that Apple has on several occasions licensed those holy patents, most notably to Microsoft, which signed an anti-cloning agreement as part of the deal.

Samsung have said Apple's willingness to license at all shows money should be sufficient compensation. Apple have licensed at least one of the prized patents already in the Samsung case to both Nokia and IBM. This fact is now public knowledge after the courts mistakenly released a ruling detailing facts that should have been kept from public view.

In a court filing last week, Apple argued that its Nokia, IBM and Microsoft deals shouldn't stand in the way of an injunction. Microsoft's license only covers Apple patents filed before 2002, and IBM signed several years before the iPhone launched, according to Apple.

Apple wrote: "IBM's agreement is a cross license with a party that does not market smartphones."

Apple's shift toward licensing against the Job’s war-model could also reflect a realisation that injunctions have become harder to obtain for a variety of reasons.

Professor at Santa Clara Law in Silicon Valley, Colleen Chien, said an appellate ruling last month that tossed Apple's pretrial injunction against the Samsung Nexus phone raised the legal standard for everyone, stating: "The ability of technology companies to get injunctions on big products based on small inventions, unless the inventions drive consumer's demand, has been whittled away significantly."

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