Last updated: March 2, 2010 6:40 pm

Apple sues HTC over iPhone patents

Apple on Tuesday filed a patent infringement lawsuit against HTC, the maker of Google’s Nexus One smartphone, in a sign that the maker of the iPhone was preparing to defend aggressively its position as a leader in the booming smartphone market.

The suit, filed in the US International Trade Commission and the US District Court in Delaware, accuses HTC of violating 20 patents relating to the iPhone’s user interface, underlying architecture and hardware.

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“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple chief executive. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

Apple has accumulateda vast trove of patents through its development of the iPhone. If interpreted as Apple hopes, the patents could cover features that are becoming commonplace features on touch-screen smartphones, such as multitouch and sliding a finger across the screen to unlock a phone.

“Apple is going to work very hard to remain competitive,” said William A Stofega, a mobile analyst with market research company IDC. “They also looked at what’s happening overall in the smartphone market, and they’re starting to feel a little pressure.

HTC said that it learnt of the suit through media reports. “HTC values patent rights and their enforcement but is also committed to defending its own technology innovations,” it said.

Last year the iPhone faced the first real threats to its market leading position from the Palm Pre and several phones powered by Google’s Android open source operating system. While the Pre failed to gain traction, a proliferation of Android phones has put Apple on the defensive.

Google’s share of the smartphone operating system market is expected to grow from 3.5 per cent last year to 10.3 per cent this year, according to IDC. Apple’s share is expected to dip slightly.

“Apple sees Android coming forward, and they see this as a real threat,” said Mr Stofega.

Once allies, Apple and Google have become increasingly competitive in recent months.

Apple is entangled in patent litigation around the iPhone. Nokia, the world’s largest mobile phone maker, began proceedings against Apple in October, claiming the iPhone violated Nokia patents. Apple since countersued Nokia.

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