Google helps HTC in patent battle

Google has stepped into the widening legal battle pitching Asian smartphone makers against Apple by transferring patents to Taiwan’s HTC, which is fighting charges from the iPhone maker of intellectual property infringement in its Android phones.

The US internet search group, which allows makers to use its Android mobile phone operating system for free, transferred nine patents to HTC last week.

On Wednesday, the smartphone maker used some of its newly acquired intellectual property to file countersuits against Apple in two US courts.

HTC has lost an initial court ruling over patent infringement to Apple.

Intellectual property has become a battleground in the smartphone industry, with both Apple and Microsoft challenging Android phone makers such as HTC and Samsung in courts in the US, Europe and Japan.

Google’s move shows how the group is growing more active in throwing its weight behind other groups using Android, after a pledge to protect its operating system against legal threats when it agreed to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5bn last month. The deal will give it control over Motorola’s more than 17,000 patents.

Larry Page, Google chief executive, said at the time that a stronger patent portfolio would enable the company “to better protect Android from anticompetitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies”.

Of the patents transferred to HTC, none were part of the Motorola acquisition, which is set to close early next year.

HTC confirmed that it had expanded legal actions against Apple but did not comment on the acquisition of patents from Google.

Pierre Ferragu, an analyst at Bernstein, said some of the patents that Google had transferred were similar to Apple patents that the US International Trade Commission ruled had been infringed by HTC. This suggests Google is helping provide legal ammunition for HTC’s fight against Apple.

“With ‘Googorola’ stepping in to support the Android ecosystem, the chances that Apple forces major workarounds or gets meaningful royalty payments become very unlikely,” Mr Ferragu said.

The transfer opens the possibility of Google helping other Android phone makers. Samsung is expecting a ruling today from a German court on whether the design of its tablets was stolen from Apple’s iPad. Samsung faces a ban in Germany for its tablets if it loses.

CK Cheng, analyst at CLSA, said Google would probably offer similar patent protection to other Android phonemakers, especially after the Motorola deal closes.

“But there is very little information out there now and it is unclear whether or not Google would charge phonemakers for such protection,” he said.

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