Does HTC violate Apple patents because Android founder Andy Rubin was inspired by them when he worked at Apple?

Does HTC violate Apple patents because Android founder Andy Rubin was inspired by them when he worked at Apple?

Long title, longer legal filing, but the gist is Apple seems to be claiming Android founder Andy Rubin was working for Apple and reporting to the man who filed for a patent on Apple's behalf that Apple is now suing HTC for violating in their Android phones. Even longer:

Android and Mr. Rubin's relevant background does not start, as HTC would like the Commission to believe, with his work at General Magic or Danger in the mid-1990s. In reality, as the evidence revealed at the hearing, Mr. Rubin began his career at Apple in the early 1990s and worked as a low-level engineer specifically reporting to the inventors of the '263 [realtime API] patent at the exact time their invention was being conceived and developed. [...] It is thus no wonder that the infringing Android platform used the claimed subsystem approach of the '263 patent that allows for flexibility of design and enables the platform to be "highly customizable and expandable" as HTC touts. [...] While Mr. Rubin's inspiration for the Android framework may not be directly relevant to the pending petitions for review, that HTC felt compelled to distort this history is illustrative of the liberties it takes in attacking the ALJ's [initial determination] and the substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's findings.

FOSS Patents Florian Mueler says that since Rubin works for Google, not HTC, this would be far more meaningful if Apple eventually sues Google directly, or if/when Google's Motorola purchase goes through.

Google (or a Google subsidiary like [Motorola Mobility) would almost certainly be found to infringe the relevant patent intentionally, and willful infringement would greatly increase Apple's chances of obtaining an injunction as well as triple damages.

Mueler also points out Rubin and co. may have willfully infringed Oracle (formerly Sun) Java patents in Android as well.

Regardless of where you fall on the whole Apple vs. Android and patent system issues, right now it's just more fuel for the legal soap opera. Would Google throw Rubin under the bus on this?

[FOSS Patents]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter,, Google+.

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There are 14 comments. Add yours.

Jrenz says:

Another day, another Florian Mueller hatchet job. The man is little more than another Rob Enderle, only pro-Apple instead of pro-Microsoft. Mueller is the same guy who breathlessly reported the finding as an ironclad violation, only to have it debunked less than 24 hours later, at which point he turned to claims that Google was violating the GPL in its treatment of Linux, at least until Linus Torvalds himself pointed out Mueller's understanding of interfaces and their relationship to the GPL was laughable at best, and the hallmark of an attention-seeker. Someday, we'll find out what exactly Mueller's particular axe to grind is, but, until then, I'll wait to hear commentary from a slightly more credible source. TIPB might be well advised to check with somebody -- anybody -- else, from time to time, as well.

Robert Wilke says:

This is just getting ridiculous. When they write about this time in business books. The convoluted BS that is IP copywrites. They will shake their heads and say what a bunch of fools they were. To paraphrase Susan Powder "SOMEBODY, PLEASE STOP THE INSANITY!!!!!".

Guest says:

Sounds like the lawyers from Apple and their competitors had lunch together one afternoon.....
"These retainer fees aren't enough for me to add another level to my house."
"Look at Jobs, he has more levels on his house than anybody."
"I deserve a piece of that pie too."
"How about we talk our bosses into suing each other?" "Everybody will settle of court and we will take our usual 80% cut plus attorney fees.
"It's a win-win!"

plunder says:

Perhaps the thing that inspired Andy was a CEO willing to sweep away crap thinking and get to grips with the consumer space.
It is easy to see a specific product as the thing that changed the world, but that is a secondary effect. It was the change in approach and philosophy behind the every process that saved Apple. Steve refocused Apple and made it interesting; Jonathan designed great solutions and Tim streamlined production. It sounds so simple, but it is as rare as dragon eggs in real companies.
Superb Market Understanding + Good Design x Focused production Management = Success. Unfortunately you can't patent that.

Jaime says:

I still don't understand this IP lawsuits. "subsystem approach of the ’263 patent that allows for flexibility of design and enables the platform to be “highly customizable and expandable” as HTC touts" BIG What kinda stupid patent is this? Maybe I should patent the idea of looking both ways before crossing the street, than I can be come a billionaire less everyone want to get run over before crossing the street.
From a consumer standpoint, the iPhone and Android devices are very much different. Can someone PLEASE make these infringements more clear?

Guest says:

The first court document is an Apple submission -- we might expect an "analyst" to actually analyze, the contents of a plaintiff's submission, than accept it at face value.
Think of it like this -- Scott Forstall's name is on numerous patents for iOS interface elements. Some engineers report directly to him who work entirely on internals, and have never touched any UI code. Are those engineers tainted for all of Forstall's patents, even the UI ones, based on this relationship? That is what Apple is alleging regarding Rubin.
Any analyst worth his salt would point out that Apple would have to demonstrate the particulars of the relationship goes beyond that, but, as usual, Mueller ignores that requirement because it does against the story he wants to tell. Instead, he just tosses around phrases like "almost certainly" without backing it up, just like he did with and with Google and the GPL. So forgive the skepticism; Mueller deserves it.
As for the second document, the Rubin email does not differentiate between Java the language and Java the JVM -- not to mention that either interpretation of Java has nothing to do with HTC or with Apple. As such, its use in this article is largely irrelevant here.
The Lindholm email is far more damaging to Google, and the judge's skepticism is warranted, IMHO, but Mueller is clearly starting at a conclusion and throwing evidence against the wall to support it, which is exactly the opposite of what an analyst is supposed to to.

Guest says:

Probably after Samsung sues Apple for copying the F700.

LinuxLover says:

So what does Andy Rubin have to do with HTC? If company A develops an OS while infringing on patents owned by company B and it's licensed for use by company C, how is company C at fault? It merely used another vendor's product. I could see if company B went after company A, but it's going after the customer, which is wrong, IMO.

Forum iphone says:

atari invented IOS , that's it!

Steve Crist says:

Like how people used to ask me if my Touch Pro was an iPhone? Or if my old treo was a blackberry?
People are stupid. That doesn't mean that the design is similar enough to constitute infringement.

Guest says:
  • No, your employer does not own your thoughts. You may think so, because your employer may have put it in your contract, but the extent of shop rights vary by jurisdiction. I do not know where you work, but you really should look up your own rights.
    • In most contracts, the employer has limited rights to inventions the employee has worked on (and typically only on company time or with company resources).

It is also irrelevant -- Google is not claiming ownership, nor denying the ownership of the '263 patent.
Still, in terms of showing willful infringement, It would be a big problem for Google if and only if Apple can demonstrate that Rubin worked on materials relevant to the 263 patent, or that he reasonably could have had inside knowledge of the technology in question. If he did not, and his relationship with the patent holders in the company is as tenuous as that Forstall example I noted, then no, it would not be a problem.

Casey Robinson says:

Rolled the dice and came up craps? wow ok, its not like android is on half of the smartphones sold in the world... 50% market share, over 550,000 sold a day, and doubling the market share of the iphone... yep they sure came up craps... just cause apple cant compete lets sue them over the use of a touch screen device.brilliant emperor jobs!