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Apple, Android: Navigating the Patent Wars

Apple, Android patent story updated with information on HTC's suit against Apple

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In a twist of events, HTC is using patents from Google (GOOG - Get Report) to pursue new lawsuits against Apple (AAPL - Get Report).

The suit is the first in which Google has aided a smartphone maker running Android's operating system. In the past several months, the company has sat on the sidelines while partners Motorola Mobility (MMI - Get Report) and Samsung have faced patent infringement lawsuits from Apple claiming their Android phones mimic the iPhone.

Google's current move shows "it wants to be an arms supplier in the patent war," said Carl Howe, an analyst with the Yankee Group. "This is the first time we've seen a company buy a patent and transfer it to someone else to litigate with."

Google also may have wanted to show support to its Android partners, several of which have been hit hard by lawsuits from Apple, legal consultant Florian Mueller wrote on his blog Foss Patents.

Last month a German court granted Apple an injunction to stop the sale of Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablets across Europe.

While patent lawsuits are nothing new, these battles heated up in the past year as competition in the smartphone market intensified.

The growth of Google's Android platform has put Apple and others on the offensive as they look for ways to cripple Google's handset partners.

While Apple may receive some form of payment as a result of its lawsuits -- likely in the form of royalties -- the lawsuits are more about fending off competitive threats than monetary gain.

"If Apple says they want to preserve the unique and distinct look and feel of the iPhone and iPad, it means that Android can't implement certain features and the user experience on their devices will be hugely inferior," Mueller said.

Besides its fight with HTC, Apple is suing Motorola and Samsung, both which manufacture Android devices.

Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report), in turn, launched a patent lawsuit against Barnes & Noble (BKS) earlier this year, which relates to software and features on its Android-based Nook readers.

"The majority of these patent suits are because of the disruptive impact that Android has had on its competitors while taking the world by storm in the past year and a half," Mueller said, nodding to the 550,000 Android devices Google says are activated each day. "If Android wasn't successful, no one would bother to sue."

To defend itself against a rash of patent lawsuits, Google last month spent $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility and its 17,000 patents. Google had around 650 patents prior to the acquisition.

Click the graphic above to track some of the most high-profile patent cases filed over the past year.

--Written by Olivia Oran in New York.

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