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Friday, March 12, 2010, 07:25 am PT (10:25 am ET)

Open source community 'hopelessly confused' by Apple-HTC suit

Analyst Charlie Wolf with Needham & Company said Friday he believes the open source community, which has backed Google's Android mobile operating system against the iPhone, has the wrong take on Apple's patent lawsuit against rival handset maker HTC.

Wolf, in a new note to investors, said the open source community is "hopelessly confused." He said the open source movement came from the academic community, where ideas are freely exchanged. But things don't work like that in the business world.

"There's a critical difference between the free exchange of ideas and the free exchange of software," Wolf said. "In the academic world, the entire value of an idea accrues to its author in the form of reputation, citations, invitations to speak at conferences, and possibly an appointment at a prestigious university. In the open source world, no value accrues to the writer of a particular piece of software."

Wolf said although some have suggested Apple's lawsuit with HTC comes directly from Steve Jobs, he doesn't believe that's the case.

"The lawsuit is not about psychology," he wrote. "It's about economics. Apple has every right to sue to protect its intellectual property. That's what our patent system is all about."

Earlier this month, Apple sued HTC, alleging that the smartphone manufacturer has been in violation of 20 iPhone-related patents relating to user interface, underlying architecture and hardware. The complaint, filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission, has asked for sales and importation of all HTC handsets in the U.S. to be halted.

Apple's lawsuit specifically mentions the Google Android mobile operating system, and lists a number of Android-powered handsets, including the Nexus One and myTouch 3G. Some Windows Mobile smartphones were also named in the suit, but were targeted for their use of digital signal processing hardware decoders.

Google has come out in defense of its partner HTC, stating that the search giant stands behind the Android operating system "and the partners who have helped us to develop it." Wolf has previously said he believes Apple has better than 50-50 odds of coming out victorious in its suit against HTC.

Similarly, analyst Shaw Wu with Kaufman Bros. previously said he believes Apple's "very large war chest" will likely force some competitors to either take out features or pay royalties to the iPhone maker in order to use patented technologies such as multi-touch.