In the classic Martin Scorsese film, “The King of Comedy,” one character utters the infamous line, “I’m the ones suing. I’m the lawyer.” That line comes to my mind every time it is announced that a technology company files a lawsuit against another technology company. I’ve previously covered this topic, noting that companies have sued for all sorts of seemingly strange reasons — some of which conjure up what actually borders on frivolous.
But it is worth visiting again, as this week it was announced that Apple is suing the Taiwanese phone maker HTC Corp. The complaints were filed with the United States International Trade Commission, as well as the U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware. The former has the power to block imports of products, as well as components that include contested technology, while the latter can award damages and stop future sales. In other words, Apple has taken out the big guns against the Taiwanese company.
Apple, of course, is a household name, and in this particular case it’s fighting for the iPhone. HTC is a company that, unless you follow mobile handsets closely, you might never have heard about — and even if you own their handsets you still might not know them. Because while Apple and iPhone are impossible to separate, it is actually easy to forget that HTC is the maker of the first Google Android-powered handset, the T-Mobile G1. See, right there: The phone is called the “T-Mobile G1,” and only tech pundits bother to add “made by Taiwan-based HTC.”
As a side note, this issue of name recognition is nothing new. A decade ago South Korean-based Samsung was a brand barely known in the United States, and another South Korean company was formerly known as Lucky Goldstar — today it tries to claim that the company’s initials stand for “Life’s Good.” Yes, LG Electronics is that old Lucky Goldstar.
But the point, beyond the corporate name game, is that HTC is on the rise. The G1 scored a not-so-small hit for the company, and they followed up with the myTouch 3G — also for T-Mobile. HTC is also the maker of the Google Android Nexus One. These handsets have gotten, and continue to get, a lot of attention. So is that why Apple is stepping up? Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, has been quoted as saying, “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.”
So why now? Well, as we’ve seen, HTC isn’t the small guy anymore — just as the Koreans have taken a huge bite out of the once-dominant Japanese TV market. In the case of this lawsuit, Apple is claiming that HTC has infringed on 20 of its patents, those related to touch screens, sensors, and how the devices light up. What is interesting is that the lawsuit targeted HTC, but didn’t name Google as a defendant, though it’s the maker of the operating system.
So what does this mean? Today, it doesn’t mean anything. These type of cases take years to resolve, so if you have an HTC phone or were thinking of buying one, you really have no reason to worry. Likewise, these cases are usually resolved in the end. In fact, this isn’t the only time Apple’s lawyers will be heading to court for a patent violation. I should mention that Apple is facing its own litigation over the very same iPhone, as well as other products. In this case it is Finnish Nokia Corp. that is doing the suing, claiming that Apple is using their patented technology. Apple of course responded by filing a countersuit. It seems everyone is doing the suing, and all these companies have lawyers.