Taiwan’s top smartphone maker HTC said Friday its fourth-quarter earnings more than doubled from a year earlier amid strong demand in global markets.

HTC will soon open a major research and development center in Durham.

Net profit for the October-December quarter surged to $500 million, up 160 percent from a year earlier, and a 31 percent increase from the third quarter, the company said in a statement.

HTC will employ about 45 people at the Durham office, which will open by the end of March. The operation will handle research into wireless technology and could expand in the future.

The deal to land HTC was first reported back in July. In October, Durham officials offered the company $150,000 in incentives to locate the operation in the city.

The company also has research offices in Seattle and San Francisco. The former focuses on creating innovative user experience design, while the latter works on industrial designs.

HTC experienced fast business growth last year on the strength of its design and production of the first handset based on Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

HTC shipped 24.6 million handsets in total last year, up 111 percent from 2009. First quarter sales are expected to reach 8.5 million handsets this year, officials said.

It’s 4th-generation smartphone — launched late last year — will be marketed by U.S. carriers Verizon and AT&T, officials said.

Peter Chou, HTC chief executive, said the company began building its brand awareness globally in 2009 to seize on last year’s “explosive growth” in smartphone demand.

To meet expected double-digit world market growth in 2011, Chou said HTC will double its monthly capacity in its Shanghai factory to 2 million handsets and will consider outsourcing if that becomes necessary.

Chou also said that HTC will branch out into tablet computers, but declined to give details.

“It’s a new market with many competitors, and we don’t want to rush into it,” Chou said. “We hope the product we eventually unveil will be one that meets consumers’ needs.”

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