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Apple wins dismissal of HTC patents borrowed from Google

ITC judge tosses five patents, finding the Taiwan handset maker did not have proper standing to use them to sue Apple.

The U.S. International Trade Commission has granted an Apple motion to dismiss five patents HTC received from Google last year.

Administrative Judge Thomas Pender ruled Friday that the Taiwanese handset maker can't use the patents, which relate to wireless technology, because HTC lacks the rights to file a lawsuit based on the patents. The patents, which are also part of a second ITC complaint issued by HTC against Apple last September, were loaned to HTC last summer in an apparent attempt to beef up Android equipment makers without getting directly involved. HTC also filed a federal lawsuit at the same time, accusing Apple of violating those same patents.

Pender's decision, which is appealable, leaves only three of the original eight patents in HTC's second lawsuit against Apple, Foss Patents reported. Last week, Apple filed its third ITC complaint against HTC in the past three years, alleging that HTC is still in violation of the same patents that led to a recent import ban of the HTC One X and Evo 4G LTE.

The handset maker characterized the decision as "a win for HTC," saying it was gratified that the commission affirmed a judge's decision regarding two other patents in the case.

"We are very pleased with the determination and we respect it," an HTC spokesperson told CNET, noting that user interface technology covered by another patent would soon be completely removed from the company's phones.

CNET has also contacted Apple for comment and will update this report when we learn more.

HTC filed the lawsuit last September, citing patents that Google bought last year that originally came from Palm, Motorola, and Openwave Systems. Google transferred the patents to HTC on September 1, just days before HTC filing.

A couple of months after the filing, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt voiced his support for the company's Android partners, particularly HTC.

"We tell our partners, including the ones here in Taiwan, we will support them," Schmidt said at the time. "For example we have been supporting HTC in its dispute with Apple because we think that the Apple thing is not correct."

Florian Mueller, a consultant in intellectual property cases and publisher of the Foss Patents blog site, argues that a lack of commitment on Google's part led to this Apple victory. If Google had truly transferred the patents' substantial rights to HTC instead of placing limitations and restrictions on them, Apple's motion would have failed, Muller wrote.

Updated at 10 p.m. PT to add HTC comment.

Clarification, June 12 at 11:10 a.m. PT: This article should have noted that Mueller has done consulting work for companies including Microsoft and Oracle, both of which have had their own legal run-ins with Google over patents.