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Tuesday, September 27, 2011, 05:41 pm PT (08:41 pm ET)

ITC to investigate latest HTC complaint against Apple

The U.S. international Trade Commission announced on Tuesday plans to investigate handset maker HTC's most recent lawsuit, which includes five patents recently obtained from Google, against rival Apple.

HTC amended its complaint earlier in September to add the newly acquired patents, two of them previously owned by Palm and three initially issued to Openwave. At that time, the company also filed a lawsuit with a Delaware federal court asserting four patents from Motorola that it had also obtained from Google.

MacNN noted that the ITC has 45 days to provide an estimate on when to expect a final ruling. The case is expected to take roughly 18 months.

Though the ITC lacks the power to levy fines, it is able to block imports of products it deems infringing. Of course, companies usually settle well before an import ban, often using perceived threats from the ITC as leverage in negotiations.

Apple sued HTC first last March, asserting 20 patents related to the iPhone against the Taiwanese company. HTC responded last May by filing a countersuit with the ITC accusing Apple of infringing on five of its patents.

In July, Apple won an initial victory against its competitor when the ITC ruled that HTC had violated two of the iPhone maker's patents. That ruling, however, is subject to review by the full six-member commission, expected to arrive by Dec. 6. The review will reexamine two additional patents to evaluate whether HTC has violated them. Apple has also filed a second complaint with the ITC.

Some analysts have warned that a final Apple victory against HTC could set a high royalty precedent for other devices powered by Google's Android operating system. Microsoft is already said to collect $5 per Android device that HTC sells. According to one analysis of the case, the patents ITC has found HTC guilty of infringing on may also apply to other Android makers.

The potential risk of patent liability has reportedly led some Chinese handset makers to make plans to switch to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.