The ITC has turned down Apple's request for an emergency ban on the US sale of 29 HTC smartphones. Apple had claimed that the HTC handsets all infringed US Patent 5,946,647, known as a 'data tapping' patent, which was filed in 1996 and assigned to Apple three and a half years later.

According to AllThingsD, Apple argued that the import of the HTC smartphones was harming its business and asked the International Trade Commission to ban their sale in the US in short order. But the ITC writes:

"The commission finds that Apple has not demonstrated the propriety of temporary emergency action here. The commission will not direct Customs to detain all subject HTC products because the commission does not have the information necessary to determine whether the respondents are currently violating the commission's limited exclusion order."

The emergency ban may have been turned down, but the ITC will continue to investigate Apple's claims and may call a halt to US sales of HTC handsets in future.

Legal news: statue of justice

The patent in question, incidentally, is one of those that mobile patent lawsuits seem to specialise in: simultaneously bafflingly dense and confusingly vague. It's summed up as a "system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data". So that would be… all computing devices, right? This lawsuit is going to be huge.

The legal tussle between Apple and the smartphone giant HTC has been a sort of undercard fight to the heavyweight world championship bout that is Apple vs Samsung, a dispute whose outcome could shape the mobile industry for years to come. Apple-HTC has got a lot less attention, but it's a legal humdinger in its own right, with HTC arguably the second most important of the Android handset manufacturers.

See also:

Who's suing Apple this week? Mobile patent lawsuits round-up

Apple to buy Swedish firm holding 'swipe to unlock' patent - analyst