Counting patents: Apple, Google, HTC

March 8, 2010, 6:03 PM UTC

With 3,013 patents in its portfolio, Apple would seem to have a significant advantage

Click to enlarge. Source: Deutsche Bank

In the context of Apple vs. HTC (and by proxy, Google), the bar chart at right could prove pretty important.

Buried on page 5 of a note to clients issued Sunday by Deutsche Bank’s Chris Whitmore, it compares the number of patents filed over the years by Apple, Google and HTC.

It turns out Apple’s (AAPL) patent department has been busy, especially in the past few years; the company has amassed a total portfolio of more than 3,000 patents. Google (GOOG), by contrast, has been issued 316 and HTC only 58. Writes Whitmore:

“HTC has had comparatively few patent filings leading up to the introduction of the original iPhone in June 2007. Specifically, HTC filed zero patents with the US Patent office between 2004 and 2007 while Apple filed 507 and Google filed 67 over the same period.”

To be sure, not all patents are equal, and not all these Apple patents were iPhone-related. But the numbers are suggestive because they represent the ammunition each company’s lawyers will bring with them when the battle is joined.

Apple seems to be heavily armed, Google less so and HTC even less.

The cases could take years to be resolved, but if Apple wins, it will have effectively established the validity of its portfolio. Meanwhile, Whitmore writes:

“The suit has a twofold benefit of applying pressure to additional handset manufacturers using or contemplating use of the Android OS (e.g. Samsung and Motorola). In addition, Apple’s suit could have the effect of slowing investment from developers currently working on or considering developing on the Android platform.”

“While litigation appears to be an increasingly common cost of doing business,” he concludes, “we view Apple’s willingness to aggressively defend its patent portfolio favorably and welcome the defense of its IP.”

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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