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ITC probing Apple’s complaints against Motorola

The U.S. International Trade Commission has announced that it is opening an investigation into Apple’s allegations that the Motorola Droid, Droid 2, Droid X, and other Android-powered smartphones violate several Apple patents. Apple has filed two suits against Motorola involving Apple patents covering touchscreen displays and graphical user interface elements.

The announcement is the latest wrinkle in litigation between the two companies. Back in October, Motorola sued Apple, claiming the Apple was violating some 18 Motorola mobile communications patents. Apple countersued earlier this month, and almost immediately thereafter the ITC announced it was launching an investigation into Motorola’s complains against Apple. The latest ITC announcement levels the playing field again: both companies are suing the other, and now both companies are the subject of ITC investigations as a result of the suit.

The development highlights the increasingly litigious nature of the mobile communications market, where nearly all the major players are accusing each other of patent infringement. In addition to suing Motorola, Apple is also suing HTC in a suit that’s largely seen as a proxy for Apple suing Google over the Android operating system. (HTC is countersuing, of course.) Apple and Nokia are also involved in competing lawsuits (the ITC recently found Apple hasn’t established violation of its patents), while Microsoft and Motorola are also suing and countersuing each other on multiple fronts.

Another sign of how competitive the mobile technologies patent market has become: both HTC and Samsung have entered into licensing agreements with Intellectual Ventures, a patent holding company headed by former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myrvold. Under the agreements, HTC and Samsung will both have access to Intellectual Ventures’ portfolio of more than 30,000 patents as a defense against “potential litigation.” Intellectual Ventures is widely viewed as a patent trolling organization that makes its money by acquiring and licensing patents. Samsung and HTC have both apparently concluded that entering into long-term licensing agreements with Intellectual Ventures is less risky and/or less expensive than taking patent battles to court. No financial terms were revealed for either licensing deal.

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