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Apple goes after Google's Nexus One in patent actions

'Smart company' has a strategy, even if we don't know what it is, says patent attorney

March 3, 2010 06:42 AM ET

Computerworld - Apple on Tuesday took aim at Google's smartphone as it accused Taiwanese handset manufacturer HTC, which makes Google's flagship Nexus One, of violating 20 of Apple's patents, some of which were issued in the mid-1990s.

As many as 10 of those violations involve the Nexus One, Apple said in a complaint submitted Tuesday to the U.S. International Trade Organization (ITC). Apple also filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Delaware that cited 10 different patents. That lawsuit, however, did not specify the HTC-made phones that allegedly violated Apple's patents.

In the complaint to the ITC, Apple grouped a dozen HTC smartphones that rely on Google's Android operating system, including the Nexus One, Pro Touch, Touch Diamond, TouchPro 2, Tilt II, Pure, Imago, T-Mobile G1, myTouch 3G, Hero, Droid Eris, and HD2. Lumping the phones into what it called the "Accused HTC Android Products," Apple claimed that the collection relied on its technology.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs hammered that point in a statement Tuesday. "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it," Jobs said. "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

The oldest of the 10 patents in the ITC complaint was one awarded in 1996 to NeXT, the firm that current Apple CEO Steve Jobs founded in 1985 after he was forced out of Apple. In 1996, Apple bought NeXT for $429 million, bringing Jobs back to Apple. Much of Mac OS X is built on the OpenStep operating system developed at NeXT.

Like most others cited in the ITC complaint, patent 5,481,721 involves operating system technologies, a fact that many have seen as an indication that Apple's fight may be as much with Google, Android's creator, as with any hardware maker.

"Apple's not in the business of litigation," said Barry Cohen, a patent and intellectual property attorney at Thorp Reed & Armstrong LLP. "Only lawyers are in business to litigate. Apple has a bigger purpose here, but whether it's to shut down HTC or to go directly after Google is unclear at the moment. Do they have a plan to subsequently [sue] Google? Possibly."

Cohen said that if Tuesday's filings were only a the first step toward taking on Google directly, he expected that Apple had set its strategy and was following a game plan. "Apple is a smart company," he said.

One unknown, Cohen added, is whether HTC and Google have an agreement that would require the latter to help the former defend any patent infringement claims that relate to the Android operating system. "We don't know what, if any, agreements are in place," he said.

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