Apple and HTC have ended nearly three years of patent litigation and signed a 10-year licensing deal in a move that raises questions about Apple’s changing approach to enforcing its patents.
The smartphone rivals revealed the news in a joint statement on November 10, saying they have reached a “global” settlement that includes the dismissal of all current lawsuits. The licence extends to current and future patents owned by the parties, the statement said.
Although details of the agreement are confidential, The Guardian newspaper, citing industry sources, said HTC may have agreed to pay Apple between $5 and $20 per handset it produces using Google’s Android operating system. However, on 21 November, the US District Court for the Northern District of California granted Samsung's motion to see details of the settlement.
Apple and HTC, a Taiwanese smartphone-maker, had been suing each other for 32 months in the US and Europe. One battleground was the International Trade Commission (ITC), a quasi-judicial federal agency that can block imports at US borders. The ITC was due to make a preliminary ruling on an Apple complaint against HTC in late November.
According to Florian Müller, the author of the FossPatents blog and a close observer of smartphone litigation, the timing of the deal was surprising, given that neither party had “massive” leverage over the other in their court battles. However, he said, the ITC hearing in November could have changed this.
He said the deal represented the 15th patent licensing agreement (public) with Android phones. Microsoft is a party in many of these deals.
Paul Sutton, partner at Sutton Magidoff in New York, said the settlement may be viewed as the “beginning of the end of many of the dozens of patent litigations around the world”. He said Apple’s new management, since the death of co-founder Steve Jobs in October 2011, appears to be adopting a more practical approach to litigation, trying not to waste resources in cases “in which the only sure winners will be the attorneys”.
On the TechCrunch website, US IP lawyer Ansel Halliburton said the deal may actually show that Apple is “going for the jugular of one of Google’s weakened proxies”.
But he said this was, perhaps, “the beginning of the endgame” of Apple’s “war” against Android, with Samsung being Apple’s major target. “The HTC deal is bad news for Samsung, and even worse news for Google. Whatever royalty HTC agreed to, it sets a floor for any future deal between Apple and Samsung,” he wrote.
On December 6, a court in California will hear posttrial motions from the trial in August in which a jury fined Samsung $1 billion for infringing several of Apple’s patents.
This article was first published on 01 December 2012 in World IP Review
apple, htc, smartphones, samsung, fosspatents