Apple Inc scored a narrow victory against Taiwan's HTC Corp in their smartphone patents battle, after the International Trade Commission found HTC infringed on one of Apple's patents.
The U.S. trade agency imposed a formal import ban on Monday on any HTC phones that infringe on the patent, starting April 19, 2012.
Experts say however that the ITC's decision would not hurt the Asian phone giant because the ruling covered just one patent that HTC has time to work around. The company said on Monday it planned to completely remove technology linked to the patent - which it called a small user-interface experience - from its phones.
The patent in question -'647 - relates to technology that helps users clicking on phone numbers and other types of data in a document, such as an email, to either dial directly or click on the data to bring up more information.
HTC said it was gratified that the judge reversed some of the earlier decisions of an administrative law judge, who ruled in July that HTC infringed two Apple patents in making its Android smartphones.
We are very pleased with the determination and we respect it. However, the '647 patent is a small UI experience and HTC will completely remove it from all of our phones soon, Grace Lei, HTC's General Counsel said in a statement.
An Apple spokeswoman could not be immediately reached.
Given the import ban only starts April 19, HTC has time to design a fix around the patent.
It's a limited victory for a variety of reasons, said Peter Toren, intellectual property litigator and partner with Shulman Rogers, who added the ruling does not stop HTC from importing as many phone as it likes until April.
It gives HTC plenty of time to implement a design-around, which I understand they are already working on, he said. The order does in fact take effect in April, but the practical impact won't be felt for some months after that.
Smartphone technology has spawned a wealth of patent litigation. Apple has filed complaints against Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, which also uses Android software. Apple recently settled a case against Nokia.
Microsoft Corp and Motorola Mobility also have filed smartphone related lawsuits against each other.
Apple initially accused HTC of infringing 10 patents, but six were dropped from the case. The ITC judge had then ruled that HTC infringed two of the remaining four.
(Reporting by Poornima Gupta; editing by Andre Grenon)