HTC-Apple agreement forbids cloning of Apple 'user experience'

Disputes are to be referred for arbitration to the International Centre for Dispute Resolution

A patent agreement between Apple and HTC forbids the Taiwanese company from making and selling mobile devices that copy what is described as the 'Distinctive Apple User Experience," according to a redacted version of the agreement filed in a California court.

The 'slide to unlock' feature at the bottom of the screen of some Apple devices, for example, could qualify as a distinctive Apple user experience, while the 'pinch to zoom' functionality does not, and will not be considered a 'cloned feature,' according to the document.

Disputes over cloning are to be referred for arbitration, if company executives fail to arrive at a resolution, according to the document. HTC may be required to remove the cloned feature in its design within 90 days.

Apple may only dispute features designed by HTC in this way. For features provided by third-party software such as the Android operating system, it appears that Apple will have to sue the developer directly.

Arbitration requests are to be submitted to the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, and hearings will be held in Paris.

The agreement does not give HTC rights to Apple's design patents that refer to the ornamental design of a device.

Apple and HTC announced last month that they had settled all their outstanding patent disputes in a settlement that includes a 10-year agreement under which the companies will license current and future patents from each other. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

The redacted version of the patent licensing agreement was made public on the eve of a post-trial hearing on Thursday in a patent infringement lawsuit between Samsung Electronics and Apple. The jury awarded Apple US$1.05 billion in damages, but Samsung is expected to ask for a retrial, alleging that the foreman of the jury, Velvin Hogan, was untruthful and biased in the voir dire, a court procedure for questioning prospective jurors to detect potential bias. The court will also hear Apple's request for a permanent injunction against some Samsung phones.

Samsung said the agreement between Apple and HTC was relevant to its dispute with Apple as it almost certainly covers at least some of the patents in the suit. Apple's willingness to license patents in the suit may undermine its claim of irreparable harm and demonstrate that monetary remedies are adequate, Samsung said in a filing last month.

Judge Lucy H. Koh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose division, earlier ruled that only the pricing and royalty terms could be put under seal.

However, a number of parts of the documents including the products covered under the agreement have been redacted.

Mikael Ricknäs, in London, contributed to this story.

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