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Apple's plans to derail the Android project.

Paul Nesbitt

Apple's suit against HTC is almost certainly a dry run for a series of suits by the iPhone maker, which is determined not to let Google's Android take sales away from the iPhone. And with Apple and Nokia also embroiled in legal actions, industry analysts predict that smartphone sector could become tied up legal spats over technology patents.

But why has Apple gone after HTC, a Taiwanese handset maker, which cut its teeth doing manufacturing for other companies, before starting its own brand? HTC now sells handsets that run Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS as well as Google's Android. However, it was HTC's early adoption of Android that has raised its profile. 

However, The patents which Apple alleges are being infringed primarily relate to software. They are:
They are:
    •    Patent #5481721: Method for providing automatic and dynamic translation of object oriented programming language-based message passing into operation system message passing using proxy objects
    •    Patent #5519867: Object Oriented Multitasking System
    •    Patent #6275983: Object-Oriented Operating System
    •    Patent #5566337: Method and apparatus for distributing events in an operating system
    •    Patent #5929852: Encapsulated network entity reference of a network component system
    •    Patent #5946647: System and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data
    •    Patent #5969705: Message protocol for controlling a user interface from an inactive application program
    •    Patent #5915131: Method and apparatus for handling I/O requests utilizing separate programming interfaces to access separate I/O service
    •    Patent #RE39486: Extensible, replaceable network component system

So any infringement surely must implicate Google, which wrote most of Android, which is itself a variation of Linux. 

Industry analysts have identified several reasons why Apple might have picked on HTC. Firstly, it is a relatively small company, which is less likely to put a fight against Apple. Secondly it is Taiwanese, and so Apple may believe it is more likely to prevail in a US hearing. Thirdly, Taiwanese companies have a reputation for assembling products efficiently, rather than spending R&D funds to create new technologies, so this perception may go against HTC.

Significantly, HTC issued a statement, designed to counter this perception: 'HTC believes that consumer choice is a key component to success in the smartphone industry and this is best achieved through multiple suppliers providing a variety of mobile experiences

'HTC has focused on offering its customers a uniquely-HTC experience through HTC Sense and its broad portfolio of smartphones. HTC does not believe this lawsuit poses a short-term material impact to its business nor will it affect its Q1 2010 guidance.'

Apple has also requested an injunction that would ban the importation of HTC handsets into the US, a market, which accounts for nearly half of the handset maker's business, so the company will presumably want to reach some kind of accommodation with Apple. HTC is not known to have a large number of patents, to trade off against Apple's.

Apple's gameplan is almost certainly to make handset vendors, like Motorola, who use Android, to take longer to bring new products to market;  they will have to make sure that they are not infringing on any of Apple's patents, and in some cases develop new technologies.

Meanwhile Apple will be able to further develop the iPhone and expand its technological lead in certain areas.

'Apple is sending a message to the industry here: be careful what you’re doing,' said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. 'And that’s significant, because the company has been rattling its sabre for a year-and-a-half now over iPhone-related IP infringement, and this is the first time it’s really taken an offensive position on it.'



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