From the very beginning of Google's venture into the mobile world, HTC has played a major role in the rapid growth and popularization of Android. Although they were in the mobile game long before Android entered the scene, the HTC brand was not nearly as widely known. All of that changed after the first Android phone, the HTC-made G1, made it to shelves. Since then, both Android and HTC have grown side by side on a one-way trip to the top.
HTC was also the brains behind the iconic Nexus One and a handful of the most popular phones to date like the original EVO 4G, Sensation and EVO 3D. Aside from topnotch hardware, though, HTC is responsible for creating arguably the most popular custom interface as well. Elements of Sense UI were popular and appeared on phones prior to Android (in the form of TouchFLO), but love for the smooth, glossy interface has grown immensely over the past three years. Although some will argue that Samsung may be reaching for HTC's crown, the consensus for years has been that HTC is the "King of Android." And it's likely to stay that way for some time, that is, if they can make it through the ominous storm ahead.
The creators of the ever-popular iPhone – and Microsoft, for that matter – have been going around suing Android manufacturers for allegedly violating patents. Apple sued HTC, claiming the Taiwanese company has infringed on ten of their patents. Yesterday, we learned that an International Trade Commissions (ITC) judge ruled that HTC is in fact violating at least two of the ten patents. The judge's ruling is subject to review by a six-person committee, which could ultimately determine the fate of some HTC devices in the US.
Worst case scenario? It would seem as if several HTC-made handsets could be pulled from US shelves, but that may not be the worst case. AllThingsD revealed exactly which patents the judge had ruled HTC infringed upon:
5,946,647: "system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer"
6,343,263: "real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data"
These two patents, according to Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents, are “very fundamental” and “are very likely to be infringed by code that is at the core of Android.” Further evidence of such, as mentioned by Alex yesterday, these exact patents are part of a suit battle between Apple and Motorola.
For the sake of this article, however, we will assume that all will be fine on the core Android side of things. As patent battles usually go, the storm blows over with little damage done – disputes like these are often settled outside of court. Just to exercise the brain a bit, let us also assume the review committee upholds the judge's decision and that spells the end of HTC-made Android phones in the US. What then? Who becomes “Android King?” What happens with OS updates for current HTC phones in the States?
A world (or country, rather) without HTC phones is a difficult one to imagine and it leaves more questions unanswered than "Lost." One thing is certain, though. There would be an uproar of angry Android users, and the platform's growth could be severely stunted for some time.
Don't get all teary eyed just yet, though. There are numerous ways that this patent war could pan out. Apple could license aforementioned patents to HTC, much like the result of Microsoft's patent suit against them. Or as we have seen in the past, this could all blow over with very few side effects. Most of these patent battles are nothing but big corporations flexing their legal muscles and jingling the change in their deep pockets.
Regardless of how things turn out for HTC, let's hope this is an eye-opener for Google. We know that Motorola has already shown dissatisfaction in Google's lack of patent stock and protection for their assets. Losing support from Motorola would be a big hit for the little green robot. Losing HTC could be fatal.