Apple won a small battle against HTC and the Android operating system on Monday, but the legal war continues. The U.S. International Trade Commission, following a review last summer, announced it had determined device maker HTC is infringing an Apple patent for data Relevant Products/Services detection technology and, beginning in April, HTC will be prevented from importing devices into the U.S. using that technique.

Apple is engaged in a worldwide war with HTC, Samsung and Motorola Mobility, and indirectly with Google, over aspects of Android-based devices that it says infringe its patents. The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had declared that the Android mobile Relevant Products/Services operating system imitated the iPhone and the iPad, and he vowed to stop the competing platform.

'Data Tapping Patent'

The six-member ITC, however, also determined that other patents cited by Apple were not infringed upon. Apple had originally claimed infringement of 10 patents. HTC has indicated that it will remove the offending technology from its phones. The ITC made clear that its order was not against all HTC Android devices.

The "data tapping patent" in question describes how phone numbers and related data are kept in an unstructured document, including e-mail, which allows programs such as a dialer to use that data.

Florian Mueller, whose Foss Patents blog covers technology-related patents, pointed out that Apple is also being countersued by HTC, Samsung and Motorola. He said that "there's a race going on for the first decision of major disruptive impact," adding that the 10 patents Apple initially selected were "clearly chosen for that purpose," in that they were mostly operating system patents.

Mueller noted that "a knockout blow is a must-have, not merely a nice-to-have, when you're embroiled in a race for leverage with a view to settlement negotiations." He said the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant needs to prove more such "data tapping" patent infringements" or, alternatively, one or two fundamental patents for which there's no visible workaround."

'Too Soon' to Say

The worldwide legal war has seen ups and down for Apple and its targets. Earlier this month, for instance, Samsung recently overturned Apple's attempt to ban sales via a preliminary injunction in Australia of its Android-based Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet. There is still a trial to go through next year, and Mueller has suggested that one of the Apple patents in question could affect every Android touchscreen device in Australia. In the legal struggle between Apple and Samsung alone, there are about 30 lawsuits in 10 countries.

Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, joked that, since HTC's brand recognition "has been growing over time, this lawsuit might even help them over the long term" by bringing them publicity.

He said that it's "too soon" to say if this and other anti-Android lawsuits are causing any second thoughts by potential consumer or business Relevant Products/Services buyers, as they consider whether to buy an Android device.

Greengart noted that HTC is saying it can create a workaround that avoids infringements, so, "as long as there isn't a full stop saying these phones can't be sold, I don't see this as being something potential purchasers are going to get worked up about."