As we all know, Apple has been involved in patent infringement lawsuits with some of the most popular Android smartphone makers, including HTC, Motorola and Samsung. On Friday, a US International Trade Commission judge ruled that HTC did infringe on two patents that Apple mentioned in its complaint. HTC has appealed the ruling, but it is very likely that the judge’s original ruling will be upheld.
Now, there are three scenarios which are most likely to play out.
1. HTC removes the features which infringe on those patents from its Android devices and pays Apple damages for past infringement.
2. HTC licenses those patents from Apple, and pays Apple a patent licensing fee for every device plus damages for past infringement.
3. Apple refuses to license the patents to HTC, and calls for an immediate ban on all HTC devices powered by Android in the US. Well, that, and HTC pays Apple damages for past infringement.
Now the two patents, which HTC allegedly infringes upon are related to a “system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data” and a “real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data”.
According to Florian Mueller, both these patents are infringed by code which is at the very core of Android. Given that these patents are central to Android, it is likely that all Android devices infringe them as well. HTC might find a way to remove those features to avoid infringing those patents, but that seems quite unlikely as well.
In that case, if Apple does win against HTC, there is no stopping it from going up against all the Android device manufacturers in the US.
Since the first option seems highly unlikely, we now consider the other two options.
HTC licenses patents from Apple
HTC could just license those patents from Apple for a fee. It already has such arrangements with Microsoft, under which it pays Microsoft $5 for every Android device sold. But I highly doubt this could ever happen.
Apple moves for a ban against HTC’s Android devices in the US
Apparently, Apple doesn’t need any patents from HTC, so with no cross licensing needed, it could easily just shut down the sale and import of HTC’s Android devices in the US.
It obviously won’t go for the money, not when it has a chance to completely ban HTC’s Android devices in the US, thus gaining an excellent competitive advantage against Google.
If it wins against HTC, it has a chance to do the same against other Android manufacturers as well. However unlikely it may seem now, this could eventually lead to a ban of Android devices in the US.
Android is under fire from all fronts. Either Google, or Android device manufacturers are being sued by Apple, Microsoft and Oracle for patent infringement related to Android.
Microsoft has already turned Google into a billion dollar cash cow. Apple has a chance to make much more if it can get a ban on all Android devices in the US. If that happens, Apple could stand to gain significant market share in the US, and become the leading platform. Under these circumstances, the second beneficiary would be Microsoft, which has the only viable alternative to Android – Windows Phone 7.
Android, which is considered one of Google’s greatest successes to date, may turn out to become one of its greatest problems. Everyone else is ganging up against it, case in point: the Nortel patent auctions. Pardon me for sounding sensationalist, but could this be the beginning of the end of Android?