How will the Apple lawsuits filed today against phone maker HTC affect you? The short answer is that there probably won’t be any impact on people who use either any type of smartphone—regardless of the manufacturer— for the foreseeable future. These types of lawsuits rarely go to trial. Typically they end in one of a few ways: either there will be a settlement with a promise from HTC to cease any further wrongdoing, a long legal challenge to Apple’s infringed-upon patents, or both sides will agree to a cross-licensing agreement and an exchange of cash along with hugs and kisses and assurances that everything is super-cool between the companies that were mere moments before part of a legal imbroglio.
I spent much of today poring over the filings and the patents Apple claims HTC’s phones infringe upon. They’re all software patents, ranging from functionality found in most desktop and phone OSes—thinkmultitasking, the OS X window minimize animation, and using gestures to unlock the phone. There are two particularly interesting things about Apple’s complaints. Apple is naming specific devices, and they include phones powered by both Android and Windows Mobile. In fact, the International Trade Commission complaint names pretty much the entire HTC phone line. Second, Apple is going after Google and Microsoft by proxy rather than directly. Because this type of court case can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to defend, some pundits see this as a stifling move, designed to make third-party phone manufacturers think twice before building handsets that use Android or Windows Mobile.
Although the pending litigation may have a chilling effect on other companies who are working on Android phones, I wouldn’t count on it. No matter what the legal eagles make happen, you need not fret that your Nexus One or HD2 will suddenly stop working tomorrow, despite what Chicken Little is saying. Even if Apple and HTC don't kiss and make up, the inevitable court battle will go on until your current phone is many years obsolete--after all, it took three years for the courts to order EchoStar to disable the PVR functionality that allegedly infringes on TiVo's patents in their set-top boxes, and a year later the order still hasn't been carried out. Either way, my bet is that the end result will be nothing scarier than a licensing agreement between Apple and HTC, with virtually no impact on us normal folks who just want to use ever-more-awesome phones.