HTC has pulled its phones from sale in the UK – including the recently launched Desire 12 handset – amid allegations of patent infringement.
The Taiwanese phone maker is embroiled in a long-running intellectual property dispute with German patent licensing company IPCom.
Back in 2012, the UK High Court ruled HTC had infringed upon an IPCom patent, governing how a handset connects to a network, prioritises emergency calls, and adheres to internationally recognised telecoms standards.
A workaround was approved by the Court, with HTC indicating that it would only introduce products to the UK market which were designed in accordance with the approved workaround.
However, following testing of the Desire 12 in an research and development lab in Germany earlier this year, IPCom found the workaround had not been implemented.
Since no licence had been obtained, IPCom ascertained that HTC was still infringing the patent.
“We were disappointed to learn that, after failing to take out a FRAND [fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory] licence for the patent and stalling negotiations for over a decade, HTC displayed further disregard for the law by contravening a UK Court ruling,” said Pio Suh, managing director of IPCom.
“The technology industry is dependent upon the fair, transparent and legal use of IP, and the recent development with HTC highlights the impact on those businesses which don’t play by the rules.”
HTC was the first manufacturer to sell an Android smartphone in 2008, and found success with its original Desire handset, launched in 2010.
In recent years, however, the company has struggled to compete with Android competitors such as Samsung and Huawei, and recently slashed almost a quarter of its employees in an effort to regain profitability.
In the UK, Carphone Warehouse, O2 and EE had already stopped selling its phones, leaving the company reliant on sales via its own site and Amazon.
HTC’s online store currently lists all of its models as “out of stock” despite the fact they remain available in other nations. However, Amazon is still listing HTC handsets for sale.
“As a leading innovator, HTC takes intellectual property issues very seriously,” an HTC spokesperson said.
“We are proactively investigating an infringement claim by a third party with respect to a single handset model.”
IPCom warned that Chinese electronics company Xiaomi is also in the firing line over its use of the same patent.
Xiaomi recently launched its flagship Mi Mix 3 mobile handset to the UK, which has also been found by IPCom to utilise the patent, and which is currently on sale in a number of retail outlets.
As a result, IPCom has filed a complaint in the UK High Court against Xiaomi, seeking relief against the Chinese giant unless it enters into a reasonable licence agreement.
“Xiaomi is a newcomer to a pretty crowded mobile market in the UK – and first impressions count,” said Suh.
“Launching in a new region means adhering to the laws of that region, and engaging with other players in an open, cooperative manner.
“A failure to do so – and a failure to obtain the necessary patent licences beforehand – is a risky move by Xiaomi, and one that also puts retailers selling its products in the firing line.
“We’re in conversation with the team at Xiaomi and hope to conclude the matter and avoid it going the way of HTC.”