Apple’s HTC Suit: All About Google

The lawsuit Apple filed this week may target smartphone maker HTC, but Cupertino is likely shooting for much bigger prey.

Specifically, Google is the real focus of Apple’s wrath, Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless with the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.

‘Two Birds with One Stone’

Based on the details of the lawsuit, “an argument could be made that it’s targeting HTC,” Hazelton noted.

However, the numerous issues listed on Apple’s simultaneously filed complaint with the International Trade Commission (ITC) are “all based on what the operating system does and how it interacts,” he explained. “It’s targeting the operating system.”

The focus on HTC makes sense from Apple’s perspective for two reasons, Hazelton added: The company is not only the leading Android device vendor, but also a Windows supporter as well.

So, “it’s like getting two birds with one stone,” Hazelton said.

Licensing Possibility

Apple’s lawsuit alleges that HTC has infringed 20 patents related to the iPhone. Among the offending devices cited are Google’s Nexus One, the T-Mobile G1, the Droid Eris, the Touch Diamond, the Touch Pro2 and the Imagio.

The ITC complaint, meanwhile, seeks to block imports of those products.

If HTC loses the case, it might end up having to license the technologies in question from Apple, Hazelton noted — lengthening the list of technologies it likely already licenses from companies such as Qualcomm and Nokia. The net result, of course, would be to add to the cost of delivering HTC devices.

iPad Competitor

Yet the move is likely more strategic than that, Hazelton added.

Specifically, HTC competes with Apple with many products, and tablets are among them, he noted. So, “if there’s going to be a competitor to the iPad, HTC would be there with either Android or Google Chrome or Windows 7,” he predicted.

Google, of course, is also “a big threat to Apple,” telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told LinuxInsider. “Apple is doing whatever it can to slow down the competitors.”

The battle won’t ultimately mean much to consumers, nor is it likely to remove any competitors from the game, Kagan predicted. “It will only give them a lot more to deal with as they wrestle with the market.

“We will see more of this,” he added.

‘Apple Lawyers Know What They Are Doing’

Indeed, it’s not entirely clear why Apple didn’t sue Google instead of HTC, Allen Nogee, principal analyst with In-Stat, told LinuxInsider.

“I’m not a lawyer, but my guess would be that because Android is open source — or semi-open source — it makes it harder,” Nogee said.

Either way, the suit “definitely brings up some good questions,” Nogee suggested, such as “is it the device maker at fault, the OS maker, etc.? There was a pretty wide range of patents involved.”

In the long run, however, “you have to figure that Apple lawyers know what they are doing,” Nogee concluded. Apple doesn’t tend to sue just on a whim.”

Hitting Google ‘Where It Hurts’

If open source technology in general were Apple’s target, Palm’s webOS would likely have been involved in a suit, Hazelton suggested, but that hasn’t happened.

Alternatively, if Android alone were in the crosshairs, Apple “would be going after the Open Handset Alliance,” he added.

Neither focus would be wise, however, given how many Apple users are also fans of open source, Hazelton pointed out.

Targeting HTC, then, “hits Google where it hurts,” he concluded, without upsetting too many Apple customers.

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