Apple’s lawsuit against HTC last week raised a lot of questions, chief among them being why Apple specifically chose to go after HTC as opposed to Google, whose Android OS is what many feel is at the heart of this case.
One possible explanation is that HTC doesn’t have the bankroll Google has to pull out all of the legal stops. A more cogent explanation, however, is that HTC lacks the patent portfolio to adequately defend itself in the face of a legal onslaught from Apple. In other words, HTC, compared to Google, is low hanging fruit.
In a recent investor note from Deutsche Bank, analyst Chris Whitmore compares the patent libraries of Apple, Google, and HTC. What he found was that in the past few years, Apple has been issued 3,000 patents, Google has been issued 316 patents, and HTC has been issued a measly 58 patents.
Now, there’s a lot more to this lawsuit than simply comparing patent portfolios, but seeing as how Apple’s lawsuit specifically mentions 20 patents that span a wide spectrum of topics, the likelihood that HTC has a patent library that can successfully stand in opposition to Apple’s doesn’t seem that high.
Even more concerning for HTC is that in the 3 year period leading up to the release of the original iPhone (2004-2007), Apple filed 507 patents with the US Patent Office while HTC filed ZER0. That being the case, it seems that while Apple was busy solidifying its patent portfolio for technologies that comprise the iPhone, and the current lawsuit, HTC was simply going about its business innocently unaware that it would soon be on the receiving end of a complaint from Apple legal. And for what it’s worth, Google applied for 67 patents in the 2004-2007 time period.
On the flip side, when the Palm Pre first debuted, there were a few rumblings about whether or not Apple was going to sue Palm for implementing multi-touch functionality on the Palm Pre. This line of reasoning was misguided for a few reasons. For starters, Apple does not and has never claimed to have patented multi-touch technology. Second, and more importantly, big time tech companies like Palm, HP, and IBM have large R&D divisions that churn out patents by the boatload. In light of that, Apple taking a company like Palm or Microsoft to task for alleged patent infringement can often be a fruitless endeavor when the party you’re suing has as strong and varied a patent portfolio as you do.
HTC, on the other hand, may find itself ill-equipped to deal with Apple in the courtroom.