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ITC rules Mac OS X violates S3 patents

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HTC may have just won a small victory in its high-stakes patent battle with Apple: a judge with the United States’ International Trade Commission has ruled that Apple’s Mac OS X operating system infringes on two patents held by S3 Graphics Co.—that’s useful for mobile gear maker HTC, since it just announced plans to acquire the company. However, the same decision also finds that Apple’s iOS mobile operating system does not violate S3 patents, and that means the ruling doesn’t give HTC much leverage in its mobile battle with Apple.

U.S. UTC judge James Gildea initially made the ruling back on July, but additional details have only just been released.

Gildea found that two S3 patents named in the complaint were invalid, but that S3’s texture compression technology patents were valid. However, Gildea also ruled that Macs with Nvidia graphics processors had an implied license to the technology, and were therefore not in any violation. However, if upheld, it does mean that the ITC could bar Apple from importing other Macs into the United States—and that’s particularly troublesome since most of Apple’s Mac product line currently uses either Intel integrated graphics or AMD graphics processors, rather than Nvidia.

Gildea also ruled the iPhone and iPad are not in violation of S3’s patents. Apple’s mobile devices now account for the majority of Apple’s revenues—the iPad alone outsold Macs in its most recent fiscal quarter.

Apple hasn’t commented on the ruling, but is expected to appeal the decision to a full six-judge panel.

HTC announced a $300 million deal to acquire S3 Graphics in part to bolster its high-stakes patent suit with Apple. The mobile industry largely views Apple’s battle with HTC as a proxy for going after Android, although Apple is also engaged in major litigation with the likes of Samsung and Nokia.

HTC has indicated it is willing to work towards a settlement with Apple, but there’s no word on whether the companies are actually talking.

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