USITC investigates patent complaint against mobile device makers

Several device makers, including Amazon.com, Nokia and RIM, are named in the patent licensing firm's complaint

The U.S. International Trade Commission has launched an investigation of patent infringements alleged by patent acquisition firm Digitude Innovations against a who's who of smartphone and tablet makers.

Digitude, a patent licensing firm based in Alexandria, Virginia, has asked the USITC to rule against the mobile device makers and exclude their products from import into the U.S. Named in Digitude's amended complaint, filed in December, are Amazon.com, Nokia, Motorola Mobility, Research in Motion, HTC, Sony Ericsson, Samsung Electronics, and other mobile device makers. Apple is one of the few large mobile device makers not named in the complaint.

Among the devices Digitude is seeking to bar from import are RIM's Blackberry Bold 9930, Motorola's Droid 3, HTC's EVO Design 4G, and Amazon's Kindle Fire.

At issue in the complaint are four patents for mobile technology. One patent covers a management method for remote procedural calls over a computer network, and the second covers methods for providing dual-purpose input/output circuits. The third patent covers a multimode mobile information terminal, and the last covers a mobile communication technology for notifying users of an unopened message.

Digitude did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on its complaint.

HTC and Amazon have both filed response to Digitude's complaint. Users of Amazon's Kindle Fire can download an email app called Exchange by Touchdown, alleged to infringe one of Digitude's patents, but the Kindle Fire does not include the app by default, Amazon's lawyer J. David Hadden wrote.

"The application is not necessary or required for any functionality of the Kindle Fire," Hadden wrote. "Digitude does not alleged that anything designed or developed by Amazon infringes the [email] patent."

HTC asked the USITC to rule against Digitude. Banning the HTC EVO Design 4G from import would hurt consumers and would be "detrimental to a broad range of U.S. companies" that use the device, HTC lawyer Stephen Smith wrote.

In addition, Smith accused Digitude of misusing the USITC patent complaint process. "Digitude's interest in this case is not to protect its products and services, as Digitude produces none of these," he wrote. "Nor does Digitude invest in research and development."

One of the first steps in a USITC investigation is an evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge at the agency. Some USITC investigations lead to settlements between companies before the agency can rule on an import ban.

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

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