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Friday, September 16, 2011, 09:34 pm PT (12:34 am ET)

ITC reviewing four patents from Apple win over HTC

The U.S. International Trade Commission announced this week its intention to review a judge's ruling that Taiwanese handset maker HTC had infringed on two of Apple's patents, with a final decision scheduled to arrive by Dec. 6.

The decision comes after both Apple and HTC petitioned for a review of the July 15 ruling from an administrative law judge. HTC asked the commission to review the two patents that it had been found to have violated, while Apple requested that two other patents be reexamined.

The ITC agreed to review 16 issues across the four patents in question, requesting additional information on five questions from both companies. Though the review could put HTC at greater risk, since the final result could side even more with Apple, patent expert Florian Mueller believes the likelihood of that happening is less than 20 percent.

Mueller went on to state his position that HTC stands a 50 percent chance of overturning the infringement ruling on U.S. Patent No. 6,343,263, entitled "Real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data." He also reiterated that a successful defense from Apple would be a "huge win" because workarounds for the '263 patent would require significant architectural changes to Google's Android.

For its part, Apple has said in its court filings that Google executive Andy Rubin worked under the inventors of the '263 patent during his time as a low-level engineer at Apple and may have drawn inspiration for the Android framework then.

Mueller also went on to say that Apple has a 75 percent chance of winning the final decision on the second patent HTC has been found to have infringed. But, according to him, U.S. Patent No. 5,946,647, entitled "System and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data," is mostly a "convenience" feature and could be removed from Android, though it would slightly degrade the user experience.

The commission expects to reach a final decision by Dec. 6, at which point the federal agency could issue an import ban on infringing HTC devices. Bloomberg reports that court filings show HTC is fighting any possible ban by arguing that its smartphones have special features for the hearing impaired and "enhanced 911" location services that contribute to public safety.

“The exclusion of HTC accused devices from the U.S. market would not only eliminate the most popular brand of smartphones using Android, the fastest-growing mobile operating system, but would also impact the public health, safety, and welfare concerns of individual U.S. consumers,” the company said, noting that its devices comprise 36 percent of Android smartphones in the U.S.

But, Apple has responded with its own filing asserting that there are plenty of other smartphones on the market and HTC can replace its Android handsets with smartphones running Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system.

Analysts have suggested that Apple's victory in its ITC suit against HTC could set a high royalty precedent for Android devices. Some Chinese Android vendors are said to be considering dropping the platform because of fears of infringement liability.

Meanwhile, HTC Chief Executive Peter Chou has sought to assuage investors' fears by calling the lawsuit a "distraction," expressing confidence that the company would be unaffected by the suit.