In early june, the ITC found that five apple products infringed a sudkorean mobile phone patent. The import ban was due to come into force on monday. It is the first such veto by a U.S. President in 26 years.
Affected in the case were variants of the iphone 4, the iphone 3 and 3GS as well as the ipad and ipad 2 with cellular connection. The devices in question were exclusively tailored to the network of the major american mobile communications operator AT&T.
The damage to apple from the import ban would have been limited: especially the iphone 4, which was launched in 2010, is still offered as an inexpensive entry-level model, while most of the other affected devices no longer play a role on the market. It can also be assumed that the iphone 4 will disappear from the range with the launch of the next series of apple smartphones, which is expected in the fall. The ITC also issued a ban on the sale of devices that are already in the U.S.
On saturday, the commissioner of commerce, michael froman, justified the veto decision primarily on the grounds that the ITC ban was based on a patent from the foundation of a technical standard. Special rules apply to such standard patents: they must be licensed on fair terms and without discrimination against competitors.
The weibe house – and also the eu commission – have long opposed sales bans based on such patents, because they see them as damaging to competition. Finally, a manufacturer must have compulsory access to them if, for example, he builds a device with UMTS data radio. The brussels commission has already taken aim at samsung and motorola, the cell phone pioneer that is now part of google, because of sales bans based on standard patents. Froman said his veto was based on policy considerations and a weighing of the impact on competition in the U.S. Economy and on consumers.
Samsung was disappointed by the decision: the ITC recognized that the south korean company had negotiated sincerely and that apple refused to take a license on the patent. The iphone company buried the veto as a commitment to innovation and once again accused samsung of abusing the patent system. Apple also appealed against the ITC ruling.
The patent conflict between apple and samsung has been going on since spring 2011. Apple founder steve jobs saw the design and functions of the iphone copied in samsung devices and took the matter to court. Samsung countered with its own accusations of idea theft, which relate primarily to technical patents. There are about 50 ongoing proceedings in about a dozen countries. Germany is an important arena.
In the next few days, important dates in the dispute will be set: the ITC wants to issue a decision by 9 september. August to decide on import ban for samsung devices after apple accusations. On the same day, apple will try to overturn a californian judge’s decision in an appeals court that allowed the continued sale of various samsung smartphones despite a jury finding of patent infringement.
The companies have discussed a peaceful resolution of the dispute several times in recent years, but have not been able to reach an agreement. Decisions by courts and authorities such as the ITC could ultimately shift the balance in favor of one of the parties and thus bring about negotiations.
Google and microsoft are currently demonstrating how even a seemingly clear ITC case can drag on for a long time. Last year, the windows group had obtained a ban from the trade commission on the import of motorola devices, based on a patent for the activesync technology for synchronizing mailboxes between different devices. Motorola, however, convinced customs that current devices do not infringe the patent and they will continue to be imported into the U.S. Microsoft sued the american department of homeland security for this reason, google applied to the court over the weekend to have this suit dismissed.