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ITC ruling against HTC may spell trouble for other Android makers

An examination of the two patents the U.S. International Trade Commission found handset maker HTC infringed upon in an initial ruling on Friday has revealed that the patent claims in question may apply to "every Android device out there."

Apple won a skirmish on Friday in its ongoing dispute against HTC when a judge for the ITC ruled that the Taiwanese company had infringed upon two patents.

"HTC will vigorously defend these two remaining patents through an appeal before the ITC commissioners who make the final decision," Grace Lei, general counsel for HTC, was reported as saying. "This is only one step of many in these legal proceedings."

The judge's findings are subject to review, with a target date for the final commission decision set for December 6, 2011, according to patent expert Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents.

The commission has the power to ban imports of products deemed to be in violation of patents, a move that would devastate Google's Android mobile operating system platform if multiple handset manufacturers were blocked.

The patents HTC was found to have violated are 5,946,647, "System and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data" and 6,343,263, "Real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data."

An in-depth analysis by Mueller of the specific patent claims HTC has been found guilty of violating suggests that the infringing technologies are part of the Android architecture, rather than unique enhancements made by HTC. As such, competing Android vendors such as Motorola and Samsung may also be at risk.

Apple's '643 patent appears to relate directly to the iPhone's practice of detecting contact information, such as phone numbers and email addresses, and forming a link that, when clicked, performs contextualized actions. Documents submitted by Apple accuse HTC of violating this patent through Android's "Linkify" functionality.

According to Android's own developer reference site, which is cited in the documents, Linkify takes "a piece of text and a regular expression and turns all of the regex matches in the text into clickable links."

Given that, according to Mueller, the feature is "most probably built into each and every Android device out there," a final ITC ruling upholding Friday's ruling would pose a serious threat to all U.S. Android vendors.

Apple's '263 patent describes "the use of real-time application programming interfaces (APIs) interposed between application software or driver software and the real-time processing subsystem."

In spite of HTC's claims that it has "alternate solutions" for the issues, Mueller believes the signal-processing patent will be "extremely hard" to work around. "In Android's case, it's possible that working around this patent requires a fundamental change to Android's architecture, and possibly even to the architecture of the underlying Linux kernel," he wrote.

In fact, prominent Android smartphone and tablet maker Motorola Wireless seems to have recognized the danger of these patents, as the company preemptively sought to have them invalidated last October after filing suit against the iPhone maker. Apple subsequently added the patents to a countersuit against Motorola.

AppleInsider uncovered job listings on Friday that indicate Apple is shopping for lawyers for litigation team in preparation for the coming intellectual property showdown between Apple and its rivals, namely HTC, Motorola and Samsung.

For their part, HTC and Samsung have accused Apple of resorting to litigation instead of competing fairly in the market.