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Apple sues HTC again: Will Microsoft come to the rescue?

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Apple still doesn’t like HTC. On July 8, the Cuppertino company filed its second U.S. patent complaint against the Taiwanese High Tech Computer Corporation, claiming that it has infringed on five patents related to software and user interface design, touch screen hardware, and movement sensors, reports Bloomberg. As it did with Samsung, Apple is seeking to block the import of all infringing HTC devices, with a special emphasis on tablets. This news comes as HTC continues to beat sales and profit expectations due to the success of its Android phones.

Last year, Apple sued HTC accusing it of infringing on 20 patents related to the iPhone. “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,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said regarding the original suit. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

The results of the first suit will be issued by a judge on August 5, but a recommendation from the ITC in April found HTC innocent of charges.

“HTC is dismayed that Apple has resorted to competition in the courts rather than the marketplace,” said Grace Lei, HTC’s general counsel. “HTC continues to vehemently deny all of Apple’s past and present claims against it and will continue to protect and defend its own intellectual property as it has already done this year.”

Microsoft to the rescue?

htc-pro-review-windows-phoneHTC admitted that it was blindsided by Apple’s first lawsuit, but it may be prepared for this one. HTC has since signed a huge patent licensing deal with Microsoft, giving it the “broad protection” of Microsoft’s giant pile of patents. The deal, which gives Microsoft $5 for every HTC Android phone sold, was puzzling when it first surfaced in late May, but the pieces may be fitting together now. Hoping to get money from other huge Android manufacturers like Samsung, Microsoft needed a big Android maker like HTC to join its side, and HTC needed protection from the red sea of frivolous patent lawsuits being hurled around the smartphone industry. So they joined forces.

HTC and Microsoft have been partners for about a decade, working together extensively on Windows Mobile in the pre-iPhone era. In exchange for the $5-per-handset fee for every Android phone sold, it’s likely that Microsoft is giving a discount on Windows Phone licensing fees to HTC, among other things. Though it is making most of its money off of Android, HTC is still the most prolific supporter of Windows Phone, having released five WP7 handsets in since the operating system debuted last November–far more than any other manufacturer.

While we do not know exactly what patents Microsoft has and if they overlap with Apple’s, it’s likely that some of them could be of use to HTC in its defense against Apple. After all, if you’re being sued by one of the oldest personal computer companies, what better way to defend yourself than aligning with another giant of the PC world?

And if Microsoft can’t help, why would HTC have caved to its will so easily? This could be a good chance for Microsoft to show the power of its patent portfolio.