HTC sues Apple using Google patents, report says

HTC launches another legal strike against Apple, but this time it's packing patents it obtained from Google last week.

HTC fired another legal salvo against Apple, but this time it's armed with patents it received from Google, according to Bloomberg.

HTC employed nine patents that originally came from Palm, Motorola, and Openwave Systems, which Google bought within the past year, Bloomberg said, citing U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records. Google transferred the patents to HTC on September 1.

The latest lawsuit marks Google's strongest show of support for its Android partners. Apple has levied multiple lawsuits against Android supporters including HTC, Motorola Mobility, and Samsung Electronics in a bid to halt their momentum in the increasingly cutthroat smartphone market.

HTC filed the lawsuit in the federal district court in Delaware using the patent originally issued to Motorola. It also amended a complaint with the ITC using patents issued to Openwave and Palm.

"HTC will continue to protect its patented inventions against infringement from Apple until such infringement stops. We believe that we have an obligation to protect our business, our industry partners and our customers, who love using our products," Grace Lei, HTC's general counsel, said in an e-mailed statement to CNET.

Apple reiterated its statement from the original lawsuit.

"We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours," according to a company representative.

HTC previously filed three rounds of lawsuits and complaints in the courts and ITC, with the last one alleging Apple illegally used HTC's patents related to WiFi capabilities for multiple devices and technology used to combine a phone and personal digital assistant.

Google had initially left many of its partners hanging early on, leaving many to fend for themselves in their own individual suits. But it has more recently has taken steps to offer better protection. Last month, it agreed to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion to get access to its patents, which it said would provide protection for all Android users.

HTC has enjoyed success as an early support for Android. The company created the first Android smartphone, the G1, and has seen its profile rise over the past few years. The company was also the first target of an Apple lawsuit related to Android, and is among the most deeply entrench in the various lawsuits and complaints.

HTC is also seen as the Android partner with the weakest patent portfolio. The company has attempted to shore up its position with various acquisitions, including the purchase of S3 Graphics . S3 holds patents that it claims Apple is infringing upon .

Google's willingness to supply HTC with patents for protection could hint that it may eventually take its own direct action against Apple. So far, the two companies have been fighting through proxies and partners.

"This intervention on Google's part increases the likelihood of direct litigation by Apple against Google," said Florian Muller, a consultant in intellectual property cases and publisher of the Foss Patents blog site. "Apple may hold patents that could affect Google beyond Android."

Openwave , meanwhile, has increasingly become a player in the wireless legal battles. Last week, the company took aim at Apple and Research in Motion, claiming the two companies infringed on its intellectual property in a lawsuit filed in Delaware and a complain filed with the ITC. Openwave specifically claimed that virtually all of its iOS products infringed on its patents, which related to Web browsing, cloud computing, wireless networking and offline e-mail.

Technology companies have increasingly used the courtroom as a second front in the smartphone and tablet wars. In particular, many have filed complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission, which typically goes through the review process faster and can potentially bar products from being shipped into the U.S. The ban, however, has never been leveled on a company, since the threat is high enough to spur a resolution.

The potential reward of a licensing agreement, and the slowdown of a competitor, is enough to go through the trouble.

Updated at 3:29 p.m. PT: to include background on HTC and comment from a consultant.

 

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