The International Trade Commission (ITC) has said a series of patents on loan from Google to HTC cannot be used in its ongoing legal spat with Apple.
Judge Thomas Pender has dismissed five patents on loan from Google on the grounds that only Google could enforce Android OS patents.
HTC had hoped to use the Google Android patents in its fight against Apple over copyright infringement. Pender's ruling could have far-reaching consequences for future patent disputes.
The ongoing case between Apple and HTC began following a copyright suit against HTC over features of its smartphones.
Apple filed a suit against HTC in 2010 asserting that the phone maker's handsets had functionality that infringed upon Apple patents. In retaliation, HTC borrowed Android patents from Google to counter sue Apple.
The ruling may have implications that go beyond the Apple-HTC case. Patent expert Florian Mueller wrote on his blog that the ruling may change how rent-a-patent schemes are used.
"The fact that a rent-a-patent deal was rejected by a judge has implications beyond this particular ITC investigation. Google isn't the only patent holder that assigns patents to other companies for the purpose of suing third parties," Mueller said.
"Major patent aggregators such as Intellectual Ventures and publicly-traded RPX also allow their members to 'check out' patents in order to bring counterclaims, and their transfer agreements may raise similar issues with respect to standing as the Google-HTC deal."
In related news, HTC is pressing ahead with its purchase of US chipset designer S3 Graphics. According to Focus Taiwan, HTC plans to buy the chip designer based on interest garnered by S3's patent portfolio.
HTC had attempted to buy S3 last year but the deal went off the rails following an ITC ruling stating that S3 patents weren't in use by Apple products. S3 Graphics made headlines last year following copyright suits against Apple.
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