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Apple vs HTC: what does it mean for Android now?

That Apple has decided to crank up its legal artillery and aim it directly at HTC is no surprise. And that it’s decided to do so now, just weeks after Mobile World Congress saw the Taiwanese manufacturer roll out the awesome HTC Legend and Desire, is even less of a shock. Apple wants the limelight back and it’s grabbed it in quite spectacular fashion.

Steve Jobs came out fighting earlier this week and was harsh in what he had to say about HTC. “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.”

Apple vs HTC

In all, Apple is going after HTC for infringing 20 patents, some which were filed last month, others a whole 15 years ago. But it’s the complaints filed with the International Trade Commission that will cause HTC most concern, with potentially damaging effects on imports into the US at least.

But let’s not be fooled here. Some of the patents Apple is suing over, including the swipe to unlock function seen on just about every touchphone, are questionable. This is all about Apple sticking a flag in the sand, as well as showing Google who’s boss. Make no mistake, this is as much about going after Android as its as taking the fight to HTC.

Google has said that, “We are not a party to this lawsuit. However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it." Clearly, this is shaping up to be a proxy war between Apple and Google.

Tom Dunmore, Apple watcher and former Editor-in-Chief at Stuff magazine, says a lot of it comes down to Google’s speedy development of its mobile OS. “Android phones are developing at an amazing pace, which will be a concern for Apple. But defending patents is an everyday part of the business of innovation, so there's no reason to think this action is motivated by envy.”

But by doing so, Apple is essentially saying to all Android manufacturers, not just HTC, “Be absolutely certain you don’t infringe our patents or you’re next.” It’s a move which will definitely slow down the “Mobile First” ambitions of Google and consequently see Apple hog the headlines in the run up to the launch of iPhone 4.0.

Dunmore thinks the lack of true iPhone competitors until now is why Apple has taken its time to sue HTC and go after Android. “Rival mobile makers have taken ages to catch up with Apple - it's only now, three years after the iPhone was first announced, that we're seeing handsets that are true competitors. Certain features, such as multi-touch, are only just starting to appear. So it's not surprising that Apple is only starting legal actions now.”

But surely there’s more to it. Apple is renowned for wanting everything on its own terms. Jobs might say that competition is healthy, but HTC is adamant its tech is its own and will fight the Cupertino-based tech giant in the courts.

What does it mean right now? Not much. But expect the next wave of Android phones to take their own sweet time to get to market unless they want to incur Apple’s wrath. This is one that’ll run and run.

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