Things got tougher for the Android after the International Trade Commission's ruling that Android-run HTC devices infringe two of 10 Apple patents, as per an initial determination by an administrative law judge. These determinations will undergo a review by the six-member commission to reach a final decision, with a target date of Dec. 6.

The patents in question apparently are built into the basics of Android OS and also form the basis of patent dispute between Apple and Motorola. One of the two disputed patents was used by Apple against Nokia too, which means the latest ITC ruling goes way beyond HTC.

Problem with the foundation, not just interior decoration

What does an iPhone do when it receives a message? If it includes phone numbers or e-mail, Web or street addresses, they are automatically underlined, highlighted and turned into clickable links, which enables you to place a call, or access the digital addresses or display the street in Maps. Android does the same (with its Linkify functionality). It is highly likely that the Linkify functionality is built into every Android device out there, deeming this alleged patent-infringement of Apple critical.

The second patent, titled real-time signal processing system is an API patent. For instance, HTC Nexus One is based on the Qualcomm QSD 8250 chip, which provides a variety of real-time services such as audio and video processing. According to the infringement suit, a signal processing system for providing a plurality of real-time services to and from a number of independent client applications and devices, has an Apple patent.

Working around this patent requires Android's to restructure the fundamental OS architecture, and possibly even to the architecture of the underlying Linux kernel.

HTC is done for and others to follow

The Android team, Google and Android OEMs are wading through rough waters with as many as 48 Android-related lawsuits under the scrutiny of U.S. laws. Apple's victory against HTC is critical as the complainant is now on a stronger ground in its legal battle against Samsung, yet another critical Android OEM.

Oracle filed a lawsuit against Google in August 2010 for patent and copyright infringement over Google's use of Java in its open-source Android OS. Google is being accused of infringing seven Java patents and other copyrights. Microsoft is also fighting Motorola alleging that the Motorola Droid line and other Android smartphones infringed nine of Microsoft's patents, through the lawsuit filed in October 2010.

Apple also filed two patent claims in November 2010, alleging Motorola handsets such as the Droid, Droid X and Droid 2 violate six patents dealing with ways users access the handsets. Apple claimed there is an infringement on patents for multi-touch and other touch-screen-related technologies.

Finding a way out of the legal tangle is going to be tricky for Android, as it is the basic functionalities which are being questioned by rivals. While the industry watchers debate on who is right and who is not, at least some of these lawsuits restrict market competitiveness.