May 16, 2012
While the patent wars continue to rage on, we’ve largely left them uncovered â€“ it’s just a bunch of lawyers filing briefs and arguing against each other in court, and nothing really comes out of it because the situation also changes on a day-to-day basis, and while mutually assured destruction is possible, it’s more likely that money will exchange hands, designs will slightly change, and the world will keep on turning.
However, when the patent war starts to directly affect consumers, then it must be reported, and US customers are getting their first taste of the drawbacks of the war: the HTC One X and Evo 4G LTE are currently being held in US Customs while they investigate whether the devices violate US patents.
See, Apple won an exclusion order that blocked importation of HTC Android devices due to a Sense UI feature that popped up a menu when a phone number is tapped for texting or calling that number. Apple owns the patent on it, and right now US Customs is investigating to see if these new devices violate patents. Because the process is confidential â€“ and not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests â€“ we won’t know the results unless or until HTC can sell the phone.
Of course, for the end user, this could wind up a mess if phones are blocked from import, with features removed when they do reach our shores. As well, depending on how HTC reacts to this (because Apple is violating patents themselves), if they try to block iPhones as a revenge move, or if other manufacturers try to pull the same thing, then the potential for mutually assured destruction â€“ severely delayed and/or crippled phone releases â€“ does exist, and that would be a poor outcome for all involved.
Of course, patents on technology have been problematic before â€“ Apple paid a lot of money to resolve a case over a Creative patent on MP3 players’ interfaces in the past decade. So money could exchange hands, and ultimately consumers won’t see the brunt of it, and everything is harmony until someone else comes up with a new innovation that someone else claims violates their patent, and the world will keep on turning. We can only hope that’s the case.