A federal agency has ruled in favor of Apple in a patent dispute that could make it more difficult for HTC to include in its Android phones features that smartphone users have come to expect.
The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Monday that Taiwan-based HTC would be barred from importing into the U.S. infringing smartphones starting April 19, 2012. The ITC ruling will be reviewed by President Obama's trade representative, who could overrule the agency. Such action is rare.
At issue is the technology that enables someone to use a finger to tap a touch screen once to call a telephone number within an e-mail or text message. The patent also covers technology for tapping a date to start a calendar entry.
The impact of the ruling on HTC is not yet clear. If Android creator Google can find a way to implement the features without infringing on Apple's technology, then the impact will be small. But if HTC is forced to remove the features, then it will be at a competitive disadvantage to other smartphone makers, Florian Mueller, a German intellectual property expert and author of a popular blog on patent disputes, said.
The ruling is one of the more significant in the growing number of patent infringement challenges filed by smartphone makers trying to jockey for share within a highly competitive market. Android's growing popularity has made it a favorite target. The operating system powers more than half the smartphones sold in the world.
Apple has dozens of lawsuits against the Android platform. Microsoft also has made patent infringement claims against the operating system. Android manufacturers have countersued.
Apple did not get everything it wanted from the ITC. The agency overruled an earlier decision by an administrative law judge who sided with Apple on a separate, more technical patent. If upheld, that patent would have been more difficult for HTC to find a workaround, experts say.