So far, 2011 has proven the year of the Android, with exciting new smartphones powered by the Android operating system hitting the market. However, considering the prospect of a feature-loaded iPhone 5 and Apple's key patent victories, questions have been raised on whether the iPhone will end up stealing the show.

As far as Apple is concerned, 2011 has been patchy for the Cupertino-based company. While it has enjoyed impressive iPhone 4 sales, it has also faced several setbacks in the public relations arena. As the company is delaying the iPhone 5, the current version of the iPhone arguably seems to be yesterday's news for many smartphone users as Samsung and others make headlines.

However, since the iPhone 5 has gained much focus with expected sales of 15 to 25 million units by year's end, the smartphone battle between Apple and its top competitors like HTC and Samsung is likely to intensify. Apple's recent patent victories award it an added advantage.

According to a Total Telecom report, Apple won an important early victory in its patent lawsuit against HTC. A judge at the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that the Taiwan smartphone player had infringed two of the iPhone maker's patents.

The lawsuit affects Google's Android operating system as a whole

If the decision gets approved by ITC's six-member committee, it can have far-reaching upshots for Google's Android operating system as the patents. The patents, which relate to real-time signal processing and interface functions allowing users to start a voice call by selecting a phone number received in an email or text message, are key Android features that are used in devices developed by other handset players like Motorola and Samsung, Total Telecom reported.

The judge's decision covered only two of the 10 patents mentioned in the original complaint that Apple lodged with the ITC in March 2010.

Meanwhile, HTC also gears up to appeal the preliminary ruling. We are highly confident we have a strong case for the ITC appeals process and are fully prepared to defend ourselves using all means possible, said Grace Lei, General Counsel of HTC, in a statement.

According to another report from Beatweek, since Apple has preliminarily gutted HTC in the patent arena, the events of this fall may graduate from major shift to sea change - and that's before Apple even gets its ruling against Android maker Samsung.

Will Apple be able to effectively overturn HTC and Samsung?

Considering the firm brand positioning of both HTC and Samsung smartphones, it's really hard to imagine that Apple would be able to disrupt these two robust competitors from the U.S. completely. However, a settlement between Apple and its two major rivals could be a possible result of these patent lawsuits. The possible settlement may have HTC and Samsung sending Apple heavy licensing royalties on all of their smartphone sales.

Compared to HTC, Samsung has more to lose. Adding to its Galaxy S II running the risk of being marginalized by these new patent fights, the company might also lose its chip manufacturing deal with Apple for the A6 chip, The iPhone 5 New Blog reported.

When it comes to the iPhone 5 specs, speculations are rife regarding the next generation iPhone. Its key (rumored) features include a faster 1.2 to 1.5 GHz dual core A5 processor chip, 8 megapixel camera, larger screen, thinner design, greater storage and obviously, iOS 5.

The current iPhone 4 was announced at WWDC 2010. Therefore, people were expecting Apple to announce, or to give some details of the upcoming iPhone 5 at WWDC 2011. However, being a software only affair, this year's WWDC didn't bring any information regarding that. Apple also strictly focused on Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud, without any breach of information about the iPhone 5.