Developments in the Apple v HTC patent war are coming in fast and it looks like things are heating up.

In a preliminary ruling (discussed further in our earlier article) the US International Trade Commission (ITC) found HTC liable for infringing Apple’s patents. Google’s executive chairman then hit back with his view on Apple’s strategy of litigating its competition into oblivion.

But, now Bloomberg is reporting that an unsealed (not made public) ruling dating back to July 1 may have turned the tide in favour of HTC. According to the earlier ITC ruling Apple’s Mac OS X is utilising technology that infringes two GPU patents owned by S3 Graphics.

First, a bit of background. In May 2010, S3 lodged a patent infringement claim with the ITC claiming that Apple devices infringed four of its GPU patents. Apple promptly applied to the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) to have those four patents invalidated. Invalidation applications being a fairly common tactic in patent infringement suits. Prior to the July 1 ITC ruling, the USPTO determined that two of S3's patents were invalid.

Shortly after the July 1 ruling HTC acquired S3 Graphics, inheriting their patent portfolio as well as their ongoing litigation.

However, this is a small victory for HTC. Firstly, the earlier ITC ruling states that only Mac OS X products are infringing S3’s patents and so iOS devices are not affected. Secondly, Mac’s utilising NVIDIA graphics are not affected as NVIDIA have a licence to use S3’s patents, hence only Mac’s running on AMD and Intel’s integrated graphics may face problems. Thirdly, in addition to invalidating two of S3’s patents, certain claims within the two infringed GPU patents were also deemed invalid. Although the two GPU patents are still valid, the two claims are unlikely to be persuasive.

Should the July 1 ruling be upheld by the full six-judge ITC panel, imports of Mac’s into the U.S. could potentially be restricted. However, it is more likely that with HTC’s newly obtained leverage (however limited) they may be able to negotiate some sort of mutual licensing agreement with Apple.

The complete S3 ruling is still being withheld pending last minute bickering between Apple and HTC over what confidential information should be left out of public view.

As a former HTC (now Samsung Galaxy S II) user and Android lover I am hoping that the patent rights obtained from HTC’s acquisition of S3 can save them from Apple’s litigating might.

Source: Bloomberg via DailyTech and ArsTechnica

Image Credit: TalkAndroid