ITC delays decision in Apple/HTC case…again

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The U.S. International Trade Commission has announced it will deliver its ruling on Apple’s complaint against smartphone maker HTC on December 19th. The delay marks the second time the agency has postponed its ruling this month: the decision was supposed to have been handed down on December 6, and was then postponed to December 14. Now, it appears the industry will have to wait until next Monday to learn whether Apple or HTC wins an early shot in the companies’ potentially “thermonuclear” battle over Android.

The ITC has not announced any reasons for the repeated delays in the ruling. Industry speculation has centered on Apple and HTC trying to work out a last minute deal that would see the complaint withdrawn before the ITC issued a ruling. However, one contact with sources close to the ITC has implied off the record that reasons may be mundane and and related to the availability of ITC personnel.

The ruling’s stakes are high for both Apple and HTC. The complaint dates back to March 2010 when Apple sued HTC, alleging the company’s smartphones copy elements of the iPhone—the suit is largely seen as a proxy for Apple taking on Google directly over Android. Apple is asking the ITC bar HTC from importing infringing products into the United States—a move that could do major damage to HTC’s phone business. HTC and Apple have since engaged in a number of suits and counter-suits—including HTC going after Apple on the basis of patents it acquired from S3 Graphics and infringed on two Apple patents.

HTC has vowed to fight the infringement finding, but given that the suits have been in process for over a year and a half it’s likely both HTC and Google are ready with workarounds should HTC be found to infringe on Apple patents, although there’s no telling how effective that workaround might be or whether HTC could roll it out in time to avoid a negative impact on its phone business. If Apple loses the ruling, it will continue to pursue patent infringement claims against HTC, even though potentially-infringing HTC handsets will still be on sale on the United States.

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