The ugly legal battle between Apple and HTC over the Android operating system just took another nasty turn, as two new HTC smartphones are being held up at U.S. Customs for review to make sure they don’t infringe on an Apple patent.
The phones that are being held up are the HTC One X, the new flagship of HTC’s product line, and the HTC EVO 4G LTE. HTC says it has no idea when the phones will be cleared by Customs.
Apple won an order last December from the International Trade Commission, which ruled that HTC’s phones had violated an Apple patent on a technology that lets you tap on a phone number in an email, text message, or web page, and dial that number.
The exclusion order took effect on April 19. Any phones imported before then can be sold, but as of that date HTC is barred from importing phones until Customs gives its seal of approval.
HTC had imported some One X models before the April 19 deadline and has been selling them through AT&T. But as for now it cannot get any additional inventory into the country.
The EVO 4G LTE was supposed to go on sale this week through Sprint. But for now it appears the phone will be held up.
HTC says it created a work-around almost immediately. But before the phones can be sold to customers they must be cleared by U.S. Customs.
That should be perfunctory, but apparently the lawyers at Customs who need to clear the device have not finished their review. A source close to HTC says Customs has had months to make a decision but still isn’t done.
It’s a tough break for HTC, which already has been having a bad year. The Taiwan-based company has fallen behind Samsung in the Android smartphone market. In its most recent quarter, HTC’s sales dropped 35 percent and its profits dropped 70 percent.
The One X was supposed to revive HTC’s business and help it catch up with Samsung.
In a statement, HTC said: “We believe we are in compliance with the ruling and HTC is working closely with Customs to secure approval. The HTC One X and HTC Evo 4G LTE have been received enthusiastically by customers and we appreciate their patience as we work to get these products into their hands as soon as possible.
An Apple spokesperson declined to comment.
Apple has been waging a huge legal war against Android phone makers, including Samsung and HTC. Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, once vowed to wage “thermonuclear war” on Android, which he considered to be a ripoff of the software in Apple’s iPhone.
HTC’s hassles with Customs might not be the equivalent of a nuclear strike—more like a small victory in a minor skirmish. But it’s one more thing that Apple can do to hurt Android. People in Cupertino must be happy tonight.