ITC Rejects “Public Interest” Concern on Potential HTC Injunction

Staff at the U.S. International Trade Commission have rejected any “Public Interest” concerns over a potential injunction of HTC’s Android smartphone imports into the U.S. T-Mobile and Google had both submitted Public Interest arguments that a ban on HTC’s Android devices would harm consumers and carriers (like T-Mobile), but ITC staff dismissed those concerns pointing out that there is plenty of competition from other operating systems, including Windows Phone 7 and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry platform.

Apple vs. HTC

The ITC staff comments are in response to the Public Interest comment phase of an ongoing ITC complaint Apple filed against HTC’s Android devices. The ITC has already ruled that HTC’s Android devices infringe on two of Apple’s patents, and the Commission is progressing through the review process towards a point where they would issue a ruling on an Apple request for an injunction banning the import of HTC’s Android devices into the U.S.

Staff comments serve as research-backed advice to the Administrative Law Judges that issue rulings on the cases brought before the ITC. Individual judges and the full panel of judges that handle reviews aren’t required to accept staff advice, though they frequently do.

According to FOSS Patents, Google had argued that a ban on Android devices as a whole, as Apple is seeking, “would allow Apple to establish a virtual monopoly in the mobile device industry. Consistent with its Congressional mandate, the Commission should consider not only the likely harm to competition and U.S. consumers from the exclusion of the devices at issue in this investigation, but also the potential damage that could result from the combined effects of the Commission’s remedies in the multiple investigations concerning Android devices.”

For its part, T-Mobile had taken a line similar to Verizon’s defense of Samsung in a similar case that a ban on HTC’s Android devices would harm its efforts to develop and deploy a 4G network in the U.S., and that contrary to Apple’s arguments, T-Mobile would not be able to readily replace HTC’s infringing devices with smartphones from other makers.

ITC staff rejected these arguments, however, writing, “There is no evidence that U.S. demand for the accused products cannot be met by numerous other entities, including [Apple] or its licensees.”

The report also said, “Moreover, Apple, Nokia, RIM, Samsung –and even HTC – supply smartphones utilizing operating systems other than Android. These non-Android-based smartphones account for over 60% of the U.S. smartphone market. […] Thus, because the proposed limited exclusion order in this investigation is directed solely to infringing HTC smartphones running the Android operating system (and not all smartphones using the Android operating system), the exclusion of the accused Android-based HTC smartphones would not affect the sale of smartphones running Android (other than HTC’s products) or any other smartphones using alternative operating systems.”

The report concluded that, “Accordingly, [ITC staff] submits that the recommended relief is not contrary to the public interest.”

While ITC cases are a long and involved process, today’s report from the Commission’s staff adds considerably to the chances that Apple will be able to win what it wants, a ban on those Android devices that infringe on Apple’s intellectual property.

Florian Mueller has more details on Friday’s ITC report, and you can catch up on our extensive coverage of the Apple vs. HTC patent battle for even more background information.