Steve Jobs fired a warning shot at Google today: "Don't mess with my iPhone" is the loud and clear message packaged in a patent infringement lawsuit Apple filed against HTC today.
HTC makes phones that use Google's mobile operating system, Android. And although the complaints in Delaware District Court and the International Trade Commission don't mention Google by name, it's no coincidence that Apple's first major patent offensive in years is aimed at the company that makes most of the Google phones, as Tech Crunch reports.
Apple is being represented by Kirkland & Ellis, which has done work for the company in the past, in both actions. You can read the Delaware lawsuit here. It accuses accuses HTC of infringing on a bunch of iPhone features, like multi-touch display that allows you to control things by using two fingers on the touch screen. In all, Apple claims that HTC is infringing on ten patents.
Apart from the possible rationale of trying to scare Google out of the phone business, the lawsuit is surprising. Market leaders usually don't sue their smaller competitors for patent infringement. Normally these types of suits come from patent trolls, companies trying to break into the industry, or companies that are losing market share. Apple fits none of those descriptions.
The other reason companies have for not filing such lawsuits is that inevitably they start a big patent war. Most every tech company has patents stocked up that their competitors infringe on. This happened when Nokia sued Apple and then got the business end of Apple's patent portfolio in return.