The U.S. International Trade Commission announced today that its members have voted to begin an investigation on behalf of security software company VirnetX into whether Apple infringes on its intellectual property with its mobile phones, tablets, and computers.
The company filed the complaint against Apple last month, saying the iPhone, iPad, and Mac maker was infringing on its patent that covers a secure connection between two computers over a network. VirnetX aims to halt the importation of Apple products into the U.S., though the two companies are likely to reach a settlement or licensing deal instead.
As the ITC noted in a press release about the investigation, the case still needs to be assigned to an administrative law judge, which is followed by a trial sometime in mid- to late 2013. That's followed by the initial determination, which can be reviewed by the ITC's commission ahead of the final determination.
Technology companies in recent years have increasingly turned to the ITC to settle their disputes. Companies can pursue an ITC case in parallel with civil lawsuits, and the threat of an embargo on products typically forces companies to settle more quickly.
VirnetX has gone after others for patent infringement in the past. That includes Microsoft in 2007 and again in 2010 over two of its patents for virtual private network technology. After winning a $105 million judgement against Microsoft, the two companies settled as part of a $200 million deal.
Yesterday, Unwired Planet, a company that took aim at Apple and Google last month with patent complaints of its own, said that it had pulled back its complaint from the ITC. Nonetheless the company still has Federal District Court cases against the companies in Nevada and Delaware.