Obama overturns US ban on Apple devices

US president Barack Obama’s administration has stepped in at the last minute and overturned a ban on the sale of older models of Apple’s iPhone and iPad in the country. Initially, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) had ruled that the devices in question infringed upon 3G patents owned by Korean device maker Samsung.

The Obama administration overruled the decision in a letter to the ITC’s chairman Irving A. Williamson from US trade representative Michael Froman. The ban would have affected sales of AT&T compatible iPhone 4, iPad 3G, and iPad 2 3G devices.

In its filing, Samsung had claimed that Apple infringed upon patents relating to processors used in the 3G devices and sought licensing fees from Apple as a result. Apple argued that Samsung’s patents were “standards-essential patents” (SEPs) that the Korean firm had already agreed to license at “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) terms.

The question is whether the patents in question are indeed in the FRAND 3G patent pool.

The Obama administration’s veto came about due to concerns that owners of SEPs who have previously agreed to license patents under FRAND terms can then engage in ‘patent hold-up’ by seeking to extort high licensing fees from competitors. As the White House describes it: “Asserting the patent to exclude an implementer of a standard from a market to obtain a higher price for use of the patent than would have been possible before the standard was set, when alternative technologies could have been chosen.”

The two vendors are bitter enemies. Apple began legal action against Samsung in the United States in 2011, accusing the firm of copying the design of the iPhone and iPad in its Galaxy line of mobile phones and tablets. Samsung then countersued Apple. The letter concluded that despite Obama’s veto, Samsung may continue to pursue its rights through the courts.

In a statement to consumer website All Things Digital Apple said: “We applaud the Administration for standing up for innovation in this landmark case. Samsung was wrong to abuse the patent system in this way.”

Obama’s ruling cut both ways however. The administration recently came down hard on Apple after it was found guilt of conspiring to raise the price of ebooks by two or three dollars.

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