In a pretty radical maneuver, the Obama Administration has overturned an International Trade Commission declaration that would have banned the sale of certain Apple products in the US. This is particularly radical because the President has not vetoed any ITC recommendation in 26 years. It's also interesting because the the veto overturns a ruling on patent infringement to benefit the thief. So what good are patents then?
The ITC made the ruling way back in June, declaring that Apple had infringed on Samsung's wireless communication patents, and that Apple devices containing the guilty technology should not be available for sale in the U.S. This sales ban was set to begin today. But in a letter dated yesterday, the U.S. Trade Representative formally vetoed the decision, making the closing remark that:
My decision to disapprove this determination does not mean that the patent owner is not entitled to a remedy. On the contrary, the patent owner may continue to pursue its rights through the courts.
- Ambassador Michael B. G. Froman, U.S. Trade Representative.
Sure, pursue your rights, only to have them vetoed by the government. The funny part is that Apple are also currently fighting it out with Samsung over Samsung's use of Apple patents. The ITC is set to make a ruling on this scuffle on August 9th. It will be interesting to see what their ruling is and whether the President will intervene again (if the ITC issues another exclusion order) in the interest of keeping things fair.
Even though the ITC's findings declared Apple had indeed infringed Samsung's patents in certain older devices like pre-4S iPhones and 3G-enabled iPads, the U.S. government effectively said ''so what?'' But why would they do this? The reasons for overturning the decision were officially laid at the feet of their effect on ''competitive conditions in the U.S. economy and the effect on U.S. consumers.''
The veto from the U.S. Trade Representative also mentions the need to promote innovation and economic progress. How infringing on patents promotes innovation and how the sale of old technology promotes economic progress is a little unclear though. The Representative also said the U.S. must pay more attention to standards-essential patents and their licensing.
This comment refers to the fact that many felt that Samsung had unfairly patented a wireless technology that was essential to the telecommunications industry. Kind of like what patenting the mechanics of spinning wheels on bicycles would mean for the cycling industry. I'll leave it up to you to decide whether you think Samsung's patenting of the wireless technology standard was fair or not, and Samsung are accused of stealing Apple patents too, so they're hardly innocent in all of this.
This is nevertheless an interesting moment, partially because it hasn't happened for over a quarter of a century, but also because Samsung and Android are pushing further and further into the American market for smartphones. It's hard to fathom exactly what kind of significant impact the absence of old iPhones and iPads would have on Apple's earning potential. Something tells me this is more about protecting a home-grown company than any real interest in protecting U.S. consumers from the frightful shock of knowing that they can no longer buy a three year old iPhone.
Do you think it's fair for a government to overturn a clear patent-infringement ruling to protect its economy? What do you think the government will have to say about the ITC's upcoming decision in the Apple Vs Samsung court battle?