The HTC lawsuit capped blunt talks that have reportedly shaken their faith in Google
Oppenheimer’s Yair Reiner issued a behind-the-scenes report Tuesday that sheds a lot of light on the patent suits Apple (AAPL) filed last week against HTC, the Taiwanese smartphone maker.
Citing “industry checks,” Reiner writes that:
The story, as Reiner tells it, actually began a year earlier, in January 2009.
That’s when Apple COO Tim Cook, standing in for the ailing Steve Jobs, warned in an earnings call that when it came to companies trying to reproduce the iPhone’s user experience,
That original warning, Reiner says, was read relatively narrowly as referring to Apple’s multi-touch technology, and it seemed to have some impact. In the months that followed, the major handset manufacturers — including LG, Samsung, and Nokia (NOK) — stayed clear of multi-touch. The most prominent exception was the Palm (PALM) Pre, which was well received in the press but didn’t represent a strategic threat to Apple.
That deference, Reiner writes, began to evaporate in late 2009 with the arrival of two multi-touch smartphones: the Motorola (MOT) Droid and the HTC Eris.
Why pick on HTC? Reiner speculates that as the earliest and most aggressive user of Android, HTC was the perfect proxy for Apple’s real target: Google (GOOG). It helped that Apple and HTC didn’t have any supplier relationships that could be disrupted by a protracted legal battle.
According the Reiner, the combination of tough talk and a high-profile lawsuit have had their intended effect.
Even before the lawsuit, handset makers were having second thoughts about Google, which with the Nexus One had become a direct competitor. Now their faith in Android as the easiest and cheapest way to counter the iPhone has been shaken, says Reiner. The unintended consequence, he suggests, is to send them into the arms of Microsoft (MSFT) and Win7 Mobile.
“Our checks,” writes Reiner, “indicate that Microsoft has been quick to sniff out this burgeoning opportunity and has begun to aggressively promote the strength of its own IP portfolio, as well as its willingness to join battle with customers that come under IP attack.”
- Counting patents: Apple, Google, HTC
- Steve Jobs: A man aggrieved
- Apple vs. HTC: What the experts say
- Apple strikes back, sues HTC
[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]