Is there anyone who doubts Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) executives who say they lead a mobile device company? There shouldn't be. Earlier today, the iPhone inventor -- "Mac maker" no longer seems appropriate -- sued Taiwan's HTC, claiming it infringed on a number of patents the company says relate to the iPhone.

There are 20 patents specifically at issue, Gizmodo reports. My read of them is similar to what I've seen in other media reports. Apple is claiming that it has patented the basic functions of most touchscreen smartphones, such as the ability to unlock the device with a finger swipe. Its other claims include a patent for an object-oriented graphic system, which sounds a lot like using the principles of modern programming to create a smartphone interface.

What fascinates me is what Apple isn't claiming. The company isn't suing HTC over its patent on multitouch technology, which is interesting, given history. Apple has pointed fingers at Palm (Nasdaq: PALM) and others for building devices that functionally resemble the iPhone.

"We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

Strong but ironic words, sir. Wasn't HTC first with a touchscreen smartphone? Didn't Apple have to pay Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) for the right to use the name "iPhone," because the networker had already trademarked said moniker?

I'm at a loss for how this suit accomplishes anything positive for Apple. Instead, what I see is a commitment to use some of the company's $40 billion cash arsenal to fight a courtroom war with a far-flung competitor that's done a reasonable job of creating iPhone alternatives, including the Hero and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Nexus One.

You say HTC stole from you, Apple? Fine. Just recognize you're going to fight this battle in the public eye, which means Jobs and Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook will have to explain how the generic-sounding patents referenced in Apple's complaint are the result of innovation. Refuse, and you'll be cast as a bully.

Right now, you're acting like one.

Is Apple hurting itself by suing HTC? How? Make your voice heard using the comments box below.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy has a new tux for its red carpet debut.