Apple Inc may face a difficult task invalidating two HTC Corp (宏達電) patents for data transmission in wireless devices, a US trade judge said at a trial that could lead to import bans on the newest iPad and next version of the iPhone.
“Clear and convincing means something to me,” US International Trade Commission Judge Thomas Pender said on Thursday in Washington, referring to the legal standard in determining that a patent should not have been issued.
“I have to be pretty darn certain a US patent is invalid,” he said.
HTC accuses Apple of infringing two patents it owns for ways to reliably transmit a larger amount of data.
Taoyuan-based HTC said the patented methods are critical to the 4G technology known as LTE, or long-term evolution, that allows faster downloads.
A victory could let HTC seek an import ban on the latest iPad and even the newest iPhone, if it uses LTE when it is unveiled as early as next week. That could give the Taiwanese handset maker leverage to force a settlement with Apple, which has made its own patent infringement claims against HTC.
The newest iPad, which went on sale in the US in March, is the first from Apple that runs on LTE wireless networks. Apple is expected to introduce its newest iPhone on Wednesday, and HTC can argue that it should be subject to an import ban because it was in production during the pre-trial investigative portion of the case.
Apple and HTC have been embroiled in patent battles over features in smartphones since March 2010, when Apple filed its first infringement claim at the trade agency. The case at trial on Thursday, and an earlier case HTC lost at the commission, “were filed in retaliation against Apple,” Apple lawyer Michael McKeon of Fish & Richardson in Washington said.
HTC lawyer Tom Jarvis of Finnegan Henderson said the company was the first to sell Android and 4G devices and one of the first with touch screens.
“HTC is an innovator,” Jarvis told the judge. “It’s no Johnny-come-lately.”
However, in this case, HTC acquired the patents at issue in April last year, around the same time it began selling its first LTE phone, the Thunderbolt. The patents are part of a portfolio HTC bought for US$75 million from ADC Telecommunications Inc.
“I don’t care if they bought these patents to sue you or not,” Pender told McKeon. “They are a property right.”
In a court filing, HTC said it bought the patents, which ADC said were being infringed by Apple, “to protect itself and its customers from these aggressive tactics and to preserve its ability to compete in the US.”
The case on trial on Thursday, filed in August last year, initially included five patents that HTC obtained from Google Inc. Pender threw out that part of the case, saying HTC did not have adequate ownership control under the terms of its agreement with Google. The commission upheld that decision in July.
Pender said he probably would not side with Apple’s argument that HTC did not have proper ownership rights of the two former ADC patents.
Separately, HTC won a court ruling dismissing a patent infringement case against it after a judge found the inventor made false declarations to patent officials.
US District Judge William Hart in Chicago on Thursday ruled that Daniel Henderson, the founder of Intellect Wireless, made false statements to the US Patent and Trademark Office to overcome prior art, or previous references, cited in opposition to elements of his patents.