Analysis The details of Apple's patent offensive are now public, and it's clear that while HTC is the target, it's Google's Android that has got Cupertino so annoyed.
The patents on which Apple is claiming infringement include obvious things such as the use of a gesture to unlock and rotate the screen based on device orientation, but they also cover deeper concepts such as thread-to-thread communication and interactions between an object-orientated GUI and a procedurally developed OS.
The case has been filed in Delaware, and with the US International Trade Commission (ITC); the latter in the hope of getting a ban on US imports of infringing equipment. The filings don't cover the same portfolio: nine patents are referenced in the Delaware filing, while ten different patents are cited in the submission to the ITC. But if even a few of the patents are upheld, then the way that non-Apple users interact with their phones is going to have to change, with computer users following soon afterwards.
The ITC filing starts out with a page saying how wonderful Apple is - backed up with three later pages explaining what a great American company Apple is - which is contrasted with a single paragraph describing HTC as a manufacturer, importer and seller of mobile communications devices: setting the stage for our plucky American innovator to be ambushed from abroad.
We then get down to the patents, and the attested infringements. Many of these are software processes, and thus only infringed when someone runs the software. That (arguably) clears Google, even HTC is accused of "inducing the infringement of these patents by end users of their products", though HTC's sale of devices loaded with patent-infringing software (Android) implicates the company.
The patents themselves cover the use of a proxy object to communicate between threads, enabling an object-orientated GUI to access OS resources even if the OS isn't OO, packaging a media object with a URL of the codec needed to play it back and even detecting a phone number in an email (or elsewhere) so the user can tap it to dial.
Some of these patents are pretty old: that last example dates from 1996 and will expire in another six years, while the following only has another four years to run but would seem, at a glance, to cover any event-driving environment at all:
A system in which a software module called an event consumer can indicate an interest in receiving notifications about a specific set of events, and it provides an architecture for efficiently providing notifications to the [event] consumer
Given that most of the patents cover processes used by software, one might hope that Europe would be outside their influence, but the experts tell us that this isn't the case: if the patent makes the computer do something it couldn't do before, then the patent can be just as valid on this side of the pond.
The Delaware filing is a little more clear-cut: patents covering such things as the use of a gesture (such as sliding a finger) to unlock the handset, smooth animations between user screens, stepping down the power on a "digital camera device" and sensing the orientation of the device. There are some more technical ones covering an OO graphics library and improved signal processing, and all of them are pretty technical in their details.