NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - HTC Corp on Wednesday fired back in its legal battle with Apple Inc, asking the U.S. International Trade Commission to ban U.S. sales of iPhones, iPads and iPods.
HTC said it filed a complaint with the ITC, accusing Apple of infringing five of its patents. HTC's action was widely expected after Apple filed a patent infringement suit against the company in March.
Apple's move against HTC was seen as a proxy for an attack on Google Inc. Taiwan's HTC makes smartphones based on Google's Android software, which has gained ground on Apple's popular iPhone.
The ITC confirmed the complaint had been filed but said it had yet to put a copy on its website.
HTC, which did provide details on the patents in question, said it was seeking a ban on importation and sale of Apple's popular mobile devices in the United States. Apple, whose products are made in countries such as China, declined comment.
For its part, Apple accused HTC of infringing 20 patents. In addition, Apple filed a complaint with the ITC and also sued HTC in the U.S. District Court in Delaware.
"We are taking this action against Apple to protect our intellectual property, our industry partners, and most importantly, our customers that use HTC phones," Jason Mackenzie, HTC's vice president for North America, said in a statement.
MKM Partners analyst Tero Kuittinen was not surprised by HTC's move against Apple, but he said the larger question is about HTC's patent portfolio, which he said doesn't measure up to those of other handset makers, such as Nokia Oyj.
"I think its widely acknowledged that HTC's IP portfolio is not particularly strong, because they got started on this way later than they other guys," he said.
CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood said HTC's patents stretch back to the days before it was making its own branded handsets.
"This move might see it drawing on intellectual property created when it was working as an ODM supplier to several mobile carriers and other manufacturers such as Compaq," he said. ODM stands for original design manufacturer.
According to IDC, Apple held 16 percent of the global smartphone market in the January-March period, and HTC around 5 percent. Apple was the No. 3 vendor, one slot ahead of HTC.
While Apple's lawsuit against HTC did not name Google as a defendant, it was seen as a strategic move against Google, whose mobile software powers handsets from Samsung Electronics, Motorola Inc and others.
Google allows smartphone makers to use its software for free.
Research group NPD said smartphones using Android software passed Apple to claim the No. 2 spot in the U.S. market in the first quarter.
The ITC, a U.S. trade panel that investigates patent infringement involving imported goods, has become an increasingly popular venue for patent lawsuits because it can bar the importation of products that infringe patents.
Legal wrangling is commonplace in the smartphone market, an industry where many vendors work under cross-licensing agreements. Just last month, HTC struck a licensing deal with Microsoft Corp.
Apple is currently fighting a high-profile legal battle with Nokia, the world's top handset maker. The companies have sued each other over patents related to mobile device technology.
Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington D.C.; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Steve Orlofsky