German customs officials have reportedly held HTC device shipments as part of the company's ongoing legal battle
with 3G patent holder IPCom. Patent analyst Florian Mueller notes
that the incident is not an actual import ban ordered by a body such as the International Trade Commission, and it remains unclear if the shipments were eventually allowed to pass into the country ahead of a damages hearing held Friday in Mannheim courts.
Courts at one time granted an injunction against sales of certain HTC phones that utilize UMTS-based 3G technology described in IPCom patents. The latter company subsequently attempted to sue
nearly 100 German retail stores that sold the offending HTC phones, however the Taiwanese handset manufacturer successfully blocked the action
. Some of the claims in IPCom's 3G patents were later determined to be invalid as granted
Mueller describes IPCom's latest move as "daring," considering the European Commission's evolving stance on standards-essential patents . Companies that abuse the customs system are said to face potentially stiff penalties, while European Commission Vice President Joaquin Almunia recently hinted that companies may be hit with fines for demanding injunctions over standards-essential patents.
IPCom is a non-practicing entity that bought acquired a variety of wireless patents from Bosch in a 2007 sale. The patents wielded in the case against HTC, and a similar action against Nokia, are considered to fall within the FRAND licensing terms that are typically associated with standards-essential technology.
HTC attorneys have referenced the latest customs hold, along with an earlier attempt by IPCom to block HTC devices from arriving in Germany for the CeBIT trade show, as examples of excessive pressure for the company to accept licensing terms as the dispute plays out in court.