In what patent watchers are calling a surprise move, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has sided with Samsung in a patent dispute with Apple and placed a U.S. import ban on some older models of the iPhone and iPad.
The ITC’s four-page document issued today, covers versions of the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G distributed with cellular service by AT&T. The ruling doesn’t affect Wi-fi versions of the iPad though.
It does, however, appear that this might not be the end of the story as the import ban could be vetoed by the White House during the 60-day Presidential Review period or if Apple gets the ruling overturned on appeal, and Apple confirmed today that it will appeal the ruling and stated that the ruling won’t have any effect on product availability in the U.S.
According to Florian Mueller of Foss Patents the bone of contention rests with a cellular standard-essential patent (SEP) asserted by Samsung. Mueller’s outlined the entire history of the ITC dispute between the two companies, which started in June 2011, and has summed it up this way:
‘U.S. Patent No. 7,706,348 concerns an “apparatus and method for encoding/decoding transport format combination indicator in CDMA mobile communication system” (an allegedly UMTS-essential patent). Newer iPhones and iPads coming with Qualcomm baseband chips (starting with the iPhone 4S) are definitely not affected, limiting the potential impact of this decision on Apple’s revenues - basically, Apple would have to make the iPhone 4S its entry-level iPhone model and discontinue U.S. sales of older iPhones (and the ‘new iPad 4G’, the third-generation iPad, its entry-level model for iPads with cellular connectivity; WiFi iPads are not affected at all). Formally the decision also relates only to the AT&T versions of those older products, but Samsung reserved the right to allege infringement by Apple products running on other networks (unless they come with Qualcomm baseband chips).’
In a nutshell the patent relates to 3G wireless technology and the ability to transmit multiple services correctly and at the same time.
The ruling overturned an earlier decision by ITC Judge James Gildea, who said, in September, that Apple did not violate the patents at issue in the case, which was filed nearly three years ago.
‘We believe the ITC's final determination has confirmed Apple's history of free-riding on Samsung's technological innovations’, a Samsung statement said.
Import-ban orders from the ITC are subject to review by US President Barack Obama. Mr Obama could overturn it, though it is rare for that to happen.
Apparently, Apple is free to continue selling the models involved during the 60-day review period. ‘Today's decision has no impact on the availability of Apple products in the United States’, Apple spokeswoman, Kristin Huguet, said in a statement.
The case is the latest amid a flurry of litigation between the two electronics giants, who are locked in legal battles in at least 10 countries. In a separate patent fight in the US federal court last year, Samsung was ordered to pay more than $1bn for patent infringement, an award that was later cut down to a mere $598.9m.
Samsung is the world's largest maker of smartphones and market analysts estimate it outsold Apple by nearly two to one in the first three months of this year. However, Apple's smartphone business is more profitable overall.