HTC's Nexus One smartphone (at right) uses Google's Android OS with recently activated "pinch and zoom" (a.k.a. multi-touch) functionality that is patented by Apple.
Boom! One month after Google's latest operating system (OS) update enabled "multi-touch," Apple (AAPL) has dropped the much anticipated bomb ... a patent lawsuit. But rather than sue Google (GOOG), Apple is going after HTC (2498) and perhaps (soon?) other handset manufacturers who opt to deploy Apple's patented intellectual property (NYSE:IP). NOTE: Taiwan-based HTC (formerly known as High Tech Computer Corporation), is a leading manufacturer of Android-based smartphones, including the Nexus One, the so-called Google Phone.
While there are numerous mentions of HTC's infringement on Apple's key multi-touch patent -- US Patent 7,479,949, -- this is a much broader action. Apple's suit (filed March 2 ,2010) against HTC, alleges that HTC is infringing 20 patents "related to the iPhone's user interface, underlying architecture, and hardware." In concert with the lawsuit, Apple issued a statement from CEO Steve Jobs;
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. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.
Apple's legal team appears to be ready for battle and has submitted over 700 pages of exhibits to the District Court in Delaware. Apple also filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission in an effort to block imports of HTC handsets that violated the patents cited in the lawsuit. HTC's Android phones are specifically included because they run the Android OS, yet HTC's Windows Mobile phones are also included in the suit, apparently due to an issue with DSP chips.
It is interesting that Apple has chosen to focus on HTC in this (initial?) lawsuit. This action is clearly a shot across Google and Palm's bow and may give other handset manufactures pause before adopting Android or any other OS that utilizes multi-touch or other Apple IP.
Update - Feb. 2, 2010: Do you feel lucky Google (HTC and other Android phones)?
Well lookie here ... Google's latest Android OS update activates multi-touch (enabling pinch-to-zoom) on the HTC Nexus One ... the so-called Google phone.
I wonder whether Google is counting on the same "prior art" claim (invoked by Palm in a PR campaign) to get around Apple's patents?* You also have to ask why Google did not activate multi-touch on Nexus One from the get go? Perhaps because they know that Apple has a solid claim to several important multi-touch patents.
"You have to ask yourself a simple question Google/HTC/Palm, was that five Apple patents or was it six? Seeing as Apple's multi-touch is the most powerful patent on the planet, you have to ask yourself one question ... Do you feel lucky? Well do ya?"
Despite Apple's patents, Palm defiantly enabled multi-touch on the Pre (read post below). Several patent attorneys have suggested that Palm's prior art stance might be shot down in court, yet Apple chose to take no immediate action. Why? Only a handful inside Apple know. I suspect Palm has not sold enough Pre phones to warrant a move by Apple's Legal team. But Apple's lack of action against Palm might have emboldened Google. Now that Google too has crossed the proverbial line in the sand, I would not be surprised if Apple Legal metes out some Dirty Harry street justice on multi-touch patent violators.
June 17, 2009 - Palm betting on “prior art” to keep multi-touch on Pre
Now that the Palm Pre has launched ... it might be time to recall that Apple holds the patent rights for multi-touch gestures on touch-screen mobile handsets.
Other touch-screen handset manufacturers have been careful to avoid a direct mimicking of Apple's trademarked touch-screen controls (e.g. two finger pinch-in, pinch-out, etc.). But Palm is taking an "in your face" stance on the rights to multi-touch via their new Pre smartphone.
Lefty the Chimp creating "prior art" (at right)
Notwithstanding Apple's patent (US Patent 7,479,949) and acquisition of FingerWorks' IP in 2005 ... Palm's lawyers are apparently betting big on "prior art" to undermine Apple's rights and avoid legal rulings that would support Apple's IP. And many are expecting Palm's team of legal eagles to prepare examples of prior art along with depositions from the "creators" themselves. Palm's team are even helping "Lefty the Chimp," a renowned multi-touch artist (above right) to prepare his deposition, as he has trouble with written English.
Apple's Mona Lisa (right) was inspired by "prior art" ... so says Palm
Leonardo da Vinci too was a lefty. But Lefty the Chimp is no Leonardo da Vinci! ... so says Apple
Let the lawsuits begin!
Disclosure: Long AAPL
Disclosure: Long AAPL