Apple scored a legal victory today when the U.S. International Trade Commission made an initial ruling that HTC had violated two of its patents.
The ITC administrative law judge's initial determination was that HTC infringed on two of the 10 patents Apple had filed a complaint over in March 2010, according to an HTC statement. The ITC still needs to make a final ruling on the complaint. A loss carries the threat that HTC's products would be banned from coming into the U.S., and Apple only needs to get a favorable decision on one of the patents.
HTC said it would appeal the decision.
"HTC will vigorously fight these two remaining patents through an appeal before the ITC commissioners who make the final decision," said Grace Lei, general counsel for HTC. "This is only one step of many in these legal proceedings."
An Apple representative referred back to the company's initial statement when it filed the complaint last year. "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in the release.
If an appeal isn't successful, HTC will have to come to a settlement with Apple. The loss would be a defeat for all Android supporters and could embolden Apple to take additional legal action.
AllThingsD reports that two patents relate to a "system and method for performing an action on a structure in a computer" and a "real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data."
FOSS patents, meanwhile, said the patents in dispute make up the core of Android's operating system, and could have repercussions on all Android handset manufacturers.
The latest development is also a major blow to HTC, which has made strides in building market share and a brand with its line of Android-powered smartphones, many of which feature the company's own Sense user interface. HTC was the first Android supporter that Apple went after, signalling the growing threat of Google's software to iOS and the iPhone franchise.
On Monday, Apple had filed a second complaint with the ITC, claiming that five additional patents were being illegally used, including one used for scrolling operations, another for programmable tactile touch-screen displays, and one for a double-sided touch-sensitive panel, all of which are used in another complaint against Samsung.
The other relates to the ability to scroll, zoom, and rotate content on a screen, while the last references "portable computers."
The five additional patents weren't a part of this ruling.
Technology companies in recent years have increasingly used the ITC to settle their disputes because the process is seen as more efficient than the federal courts. In addition, the threat of a embargo on products typically forces companies to settle quicker.
HTC is considered the most vulnerable legally of the Android partners because it lacks a robust portfolio of patents that act as a potential shield. Earlier this month, HTC purchased S3 Graphics, largely because of a collection of patents that the ITC administrative law judge recently determined were used illegally by Apple.
Apple, meanwhile, is still in the middle of a similar patent fight against Samsung Electronics.
Update at 3:21 p.m. PT: Includes reaction from Apple.
Update at 3:10 p.m. PT: Includes details on the patents in dispute and details on broader implications for Android.
Update at 2:22 p.m. PT: Includes additional background and details on the dispute.