Apple slaps HTC with patent lawsuit

Apple’s using patent muscle to either squeeze money from phone maker HTC or stop the company from importing phones into the United States altogether.

Apple filed one lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Delaware, and another with the U.S. International Trade Commission, covering a total of 20 patents. As TechCrunch points out, the trade commission doesn’t award damages, it only stops imports. So this is no typical shakedown for licensing fees, it’s a threat to kill the competition.

Apple slaps HTC with patent lawsuit

In the lawsuit, Apple specifically calls out several Android phones, including the Dream/G1, Magic/myTouch 3G, Hero, Droid Eris and Nexus One. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs is quoted in a press release on the matter: “We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” he said. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

Interestingly enough, the blog Epeus’ Epigone digs up a quote from Steve Jobs in the 1996 documentary “Triumph of the Nerds,” illustrating some hypocrisy. “Picasso had a saying, he said ‘good artists copy, great artists steal.’ We have, you know, always been shameless about stealing great ideas,” Jobs said in the documentary.

With that in mind, here’s just some of the patents Apple is suing HTC over (full list here): Time-Based, Non-Constant Translation Of User Interface Objects Between States,” “Unlocking A Device By Performing Gestures On An Unlock Image,” “List Scrolling And Document Translation, Scaling, And Rotation On A Touch-Screen Display,” “System And Method For Managing Power Conditions Within A Digital Camera Device,” “GMSK Signal Processors For Improved Communications Capacity And Quality,” and “Object-Oriented Graphic System.” Multi-touch is notably absent.

It seems cliche to rant about the nature of patents, but it’s hard not to get riled at some things on that list. “Unlocking A Device By Performing Gestures On An Unlock Image?” At some point, you must ask how much minutia of a phone’s operation is appropriate for a patent, and slide-to-unlock comes pretty close to press-button-to-open. Apple’s fighting a war on innovation by launching this nasty patent lawsuit, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office let it come to this.