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ITC sides with Apple in patent dispute with HTC

December 20, 2011
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SAN FRANCISCO—A federal agency is siding with Apple and ordering an import ban on HTC phones that infringe on a patent belonging to the iPhone maker.

The U.S. International Trade Commission said Monday that the ban will take effect April 19 so that wireless carriers will have time to adjust their plans. The ITC said in a final ruling that HTC Corp. may import some refurbished phones to offer customers as replacements under warranties and insurance plans. HTC, which is based in Taiwan, is a major maker of phones that use Google Inc.'s Android operating software.

Apple Inc. had initially complained about HTC violating several of its patents in April 2010, though the commission narrowed its decision down to just one patent. The patent in question deals with data detection, enabling smartphone functions such as the ability to tap on a phone number or address contained in an email to immediately call the number or find the address on a map.

It's not immediately known which phones are covered by the ban. In an e-mailed statement, HTC general counsel Grace Lei said the patent in question affects a small part of the user experience and it will soon remove it from any affected phones.

Apple spokeswoman Kristen Huguet reiterated an earlier statement, saying competitors should create their own technology.

The case is part of a broader dispute involving Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, HTC and other phone makers. In federal courts and before the ITC, companies have been accusing one another of stealing ideas for popular phone features. While the courts can award damages, the commission has the power to block imports of products and parts made with contested technology.

The U.S. International Trade Commission issued an initial ruling in October that Apple's iPhone does not violate four patents owned by HTC, a blow to the company.

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