California-based Apple Inc. has won a preliminary ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission, which said cell phone maker HTC violated two patents.
The ruling Friday in Washington fueled speculation that other Android phone makers might find themselves in trouble if they're using Apple-owned technology, CNet reported.
However, the commission still has to make a final ruling on the alleged patent infringements, which some say might not pass muster because they are based on vague definitions written before smart phones existed.
A loss by HTC carries the threat its products would be banned from coming into the United States. HTC has said it would appeal a negative ruling.
"HTC will vigorously fight these two remaining patents through an appeal before the ITC commissioners who make the final decision," said Grace Lei, general counsel for HTC. "This is only one step of many in these legal proceedings."
The first patent HTC allegedly violated deals with how the phone handles data sent to it from other devices over a network. The second alleged violation concerns a patent on how a device opens an e-mail: on a smart phone you touch the e-mail and it opens.
Both functions are fundamental to the way most smart phones -- and most computers -- work, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"This is basically Macintosh-related technology," said Florian Mueller, an intellectual property analyst who has been following the smart phone patent battles.
In smart phones, Mueller said, "we see a convergence of computer hardware and software and the mobile communications industry. And that's why the patent problem is such a mess."
"The vast majority of the patents in a smart phone are computer hardware and software patents -- mobile communication is just a minority."