As Android threatens iOS, Apple resorts to exercising patents

As the popularity of the Android operating system has grown at an ever increasing rate, Apple have resorted to exercising patents which could cause potentially disastrous consequences in the sale of Android devices in the United States.

Now we're no lawyers here at developerFusion, but we do know a regular expression when we see one. This appears to be what Apple have managed to patent and they are now pushing to stop HTC, the biggest phone manufacturer of Android devices, from importing any more products into the US.

The patent in question, 5,946,647, outlines (warning, legal speak) "a system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data". Translated into what might actually be comprehensible, this basically covers the automatic linking of phone numbers, email addresses and URLs in text messages, emails and the like on your phone - the "linkify" feature.

Patent and intellectual property lawyer Florian Mueller has taken a look at what's called the Infringement Claim Chart for the patents that Apple have claimed HTC. These outline the patent's clauses, then make specific claims against each of these clauses as to why HTC violates them.

"Note that the language of those claim charts often appears to indicate that the asserted infringement is proven for only one device. But Apple accused all Android-based HTC products in its complaint, and if a claim chart refers to one particular device, then it's just an "exemplary" claim chart and not an exhaustive one", writes Mueller.

"The ruling will ultimately affect all products that have the same (or materially the same) infringement pattern."

So what are the options? It is unlikely that Apple would go for a license of the patent, or swap license with an HTC owned patent - it has got this far already, after all. The most likely option is that either no more Android phones are imported to the US with this linkify functionality, or there won't be any more Android imports at all.

While the combination of a few regular expressions and hyperlinks may seem like an obvious mix for a seamless user experience, it seems that due to America's interesting software patent laws, it may have the potential to overhaul the mobile game again.

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