US panel to investigate patent complaint against smartphones

A New Hampshire company's complaint seeks to ban imports by RIM, HTC and other manufacturers

The U.S. International Trade Commission has launched an investigation into patent complaints filed by FlashPoint Technology, which alleges that four smartphone makers have violated three patents related to the digital camera functions in the devices.

FlashPoint, based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, has asked the USITC to ban the import of products from Research In Motion, LG Electronics, Nokia and HTC. The products FlashPoint wants excluded from the U.S. are the Nokia 5230 Nuron, the RIM Blackberry Storm2 9550, the HTC Droid Incredible, the HTC myTouch 3G, the LG Ally and the LG eXpo GW820.

The smartphone makers, by importing the phones without paying a patent licensing fee to FlashPoint, are violating section 337 of the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, FlashPoint's lawyers said in a complaint filed in May.

The three patents are patent No. 6,134,606, a method for controlling parameters in handheld digital cameras, issued in October 2000; patent No. 6,163,816, a method for retrieving capability parameters in an electronic imaging device, issued in December 2000; and patent No. 6,262,769, a system for auto-rotating a graphical user interface for managing portrait and landscape images on an image capture unit, issued in July 2001.

FlashPoint, founded in 1996, focused on digital camera technology, including the Digita operating system, the company said in its complaint. The company stopped research and development in 2007 but continues to license its digital imaging patents, the complaint said. Several companies have purchased licenses, include Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Nikon, the company said.

Representatives of Nokia, RIM, HTC and LG didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the FlashPoint complaint.

U.S. companies alleging patent infringement by competitors often file section 337 complaints in addition to filing lawsuits. Many section 337 complaints result in a settlement.

The next step in the USITC investigation is an evidentiary hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The judge then makes a determination in the case, and the decision is subject to review by the full commission.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags research in motionFlashPoint TechnologyLG ElectronicsPhonesHTC USAtradeU.S. International Trade Commissionconsumer electronicsmobile phonesintellectual propertysmartphonespatentNokialegalgovernment

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