Judgment Day Looms for Apple, HTC

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By Ian Sherr

Apple Inc.’s claims that some smartphones running Google Inc.’s Android software copy its inventions are approaching their first big judgment day in the U.S.

The International Trade Commission in Washington on Wednesday is expected to rule on whether some phones made by HTC Corp. violate Apple’s patents. The ruling could lead to a ban on handsets sold by the Taiwanese company, which uses the Android operating system and had the second-largest share of smartphone subscribers in the U.S. market for the three months ended in October, according to research firm Nielsen.

HTC isn’t alone. Apple has been tangling in courts with other prominent Android device makers, including Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. The cases reflect the Cupertino, Calif., company’s belief that many competing smartphones violate features that Apple popularized with its iPhone and iPad tablet computer.

Apple isn’t the only one complaining. The smartphone market has experienced a surge in patent litigation over the past few years as large and small players seek to hobble competitors or take share of their success through damage awards or negotiated settlements.

It’s an attractive opportunity. More than 645 million smartphones are expected to be sold world-wide next year, according to research firm Gartner Inc., jumping nearly 40% from this year’s forecast. By comparison, sales of personal computers are expected to grow 4.5% to about 370 million units next year.

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(Published Dec 12, 2011, in The Wall Street Journal.)