If you’ve wanted to know when the patent wars would get out of hand, mark your calendars. On May 16, 2012 the litigation got real for all of us in the United States. Because of Apple’s claims of patent infringement, the HTC One X for AT&T and the HTC EVO 4G LTE for Sprint were delayed ‘indefinitely’ at US Customs as the agency investigated if the devices are still breaking Apple patents. All of HTC’s phones, and most electronic devices, are manufactured in China and other regions of the world. They must be imported into the United States to be sold here.
“The US availability of the HTC One X and HTC EVO 4G LTE has been delayed due to a standard U.S. Customs review of shipments that is required after an ITC exclusion order,” HTC told Digital Trends in a statement on May 16. “We believe we are in compliance with the ruling and HTC is working closely with Customs to secure approval. The HTC One X and HTC Evo 4G LTE have been received enthusiastically by customers and we appreciate their patience as we work to get these products into their hands as soon as possible.”
The US Customs investigation dates back to an order by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) last December. The ITC ruled that HTC phones did violate one of Apple’s patents — a patent (US 5,946,647) related to detecting data items within otherwise unformatted content. HTC had until April 19 to fix the problem or face the ban of all infringing phones. Though the One X and EVO 4G LTE were both unveiled after the order went into effect, and the One X has already been on sale at AT&T, the ITC order was extremely broad, allowing US Customs to ban the importation of all HTC “personal data and mobile communications devices” that run Android and infringe on the patent. If this problem isn’t cleared up quickly, the upcoming Droid Incredible 4G LTE by HTC and the HTC One V could also face investigation and ban.
According to the statement above, HTC claims it has met the ITC requirements and no longer infringes on Apple’s patent, but US Customs decided to check to make sure. The hold went on for about two weeks, but all devices were released by the US Gov’t. None were found to be infringing on Apple’s patents.
Digital Trends also reached out to Apple, Sprint, and AT&T for comment on this matter, but never heard back from any party. We’ll keep you updated.
(Article originally published 5/16/2012)
Update 5/16/2012: HTC gave us the same statement that it gave to The Verge and some other sites.
Update 5/17/2012 – PHONES IN COMPLIANCE WITH APPLE PATENT: The Verge claims that HTC’s US One X and EVO 4G LTE phones should be in compliance with Apple’s patent. The US versions of these phones apparently remove the “data tapping” feature and have other changes like a different settings screen. The patent in question has to do with when you click on a phone number or email address inside of a text or email. Before, when you tapped on a phone number in a text or email, a menu would pop up giving you a list of options. Now, it just goes straight to the phone’s dialer. That menu is apparently a patented idea by Apple. The international versions of both phones still have the functionality. We still do not know if US Customs agrees. As far as we know, the devices are still detained.
Update 5/18/2012: Best Buy has delayed HTC EVO 4G LTE shipments, reports CNET.
Update 5/21/2012 – SOME PHONES THROUGH CUSTOMS: HTC is reporting that some of its phones have gotten through customs: “Each imported HTC model must be reviewed by Customs and will be released once Customs officials have completed the inspection. Some models have gone through inspection and been released to our carriers customers. We don’t have the status of each specific device model at this time, but we are working closely with Customs. We remain confident that this issue will be resolved soon.”
The HTC EVO 4G LTE was supposed to go on sale on 5/18, but is listed as “out of stock” as is the AT&T HTC One X, which went on sale May 6, but hasn’t been able to be restocked on store shelves. In addition, other HTC phones may be getting drawn into this battle. TmoNews reports that the T-Mobile HTC Amaze 4G, which came out in 2011, is seeing orders delayed. While the two newer HTC phones may have been updated to address Apple’s patent concerns, the older Amaze probably hasn’t seen such an update due to the time it would take for HTC to design, then T-Mobile to test and approve it.
Update 5/22/2012 - EVO 4G LTE IS FREE: Sprint has updated its community forum to let users know that the HTC EVO 4G LTE has made it through US Customs and will be available for purchase this Thursday, 5/24/2012
“Customers who pre-ordered HTC EVO 4G LTE…Your wait is almost over! Sprint expects to begin shipping HTC EVO 4G LTE for arrival on or around Thursday, May 24 to customers who pre-ordered the device online from Sprint. We will provide details on the full national launch as soon as possible. To check the status of your pre-order, please visit www.sprint.com/myorder.”
Update 5/30/2012 – ALL HTC DEVICES CLEARED: HTC has announced on its investor blog that “HTC devices have been released by US Customs as they are in compliance with the ITC’s ruling.” We have reached out to HTC for a larger statement, but it appears that the trouble may be over and those seeking an HTC One X may finally be able to buy it.