Apple, HTC Patent Battle Leads to Customs Seizure

Dennis Faas's picture

United States customs officials have reportedly blocked shipments of two high-profile Android smartphones from entering the country. It's the result of a court injunction obtained by Apple on the basis of alleged patent violations.

The affected phones are the One X and the EVO 4G LTE, both manufactured by HTC. It's a significant blow to the smartphone maker, as these phones were intended to be its flagship models in the fast-growing Android smartphone market.

Apple, Android No Strangers to Courts

Apple and various manufacturers of Android devices have been engaged in a lengthy war of attrition over their patents in several countries. However, this appears to be the first time actual phones have been blocked from entering the U.S.

Such a court injunction is unusual because U.S. courts rarely ban items from sale without a full trial and a court ruling that a violation has occurred. In many cases, the parties reach a settlement and drop claims before that point.

This time, the legal action did not take place in a courtroom. Instead, it centers around an order from the International Trade Commission (ITC), a partially-independent federal agency.

Customs Officials Forced to Block Imports

The main aim of the ITC is to provide advice to officials devising trade policy. But it does have some limited powers to protect intellectual property. One of these powers is the ability to ban imports of products that it believes violate patents.

ITC rulings affect only imports. They can't prevent the sale of products already within U.S. borders. Technically, HTC could produce the same phones in the U.S. and sell them without worrying about this ruling.

In practice, however, that would never happen because production costs in the U.S. would be much higher than in the Far East.

The ruling in this case actually involves previous handsets.

HTC says it has accepted the ITC's conclusion that it breached Apple patents, and has subsequently changed the way it now makes phones, including the ones that have been blocked by customs officials. (Source:

It appears officials may simply be examining the handsets to see whether or not they comply with the ITC's patent ruling.

Whether that's the reason for the hold (and if so, how long the examination will take) remains a mystery, as the orders given to customs officials regarding this issue are currently not open to the public. (Source:

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