Obama administration stops ban on import, sales of older Apple devices

August 3, 2013

The Obama administration Saturday halted a planned ban on the import and sale of older iPhones and Apple tablets that was ordered by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The order would have banned the sale of AT&T versions of the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G starting Monday for infringing on a patent held by Apple rival Samsung.

In a letter, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said that his decision to lift the ban was based on a review of “various policy considerations” related to whether companies can sue competitors for infringing on patents covering technology that has been deemed standard and essential for the industry.

Such patents are supposed to be licensed to competitors at fair and reasonable rates. In January, the Justice Department and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a policy statement saying that courts evaluating whether companies can ask for bans due to infringement on those types of patents should be held to very specific criteria to ensure that the technology they cover is readily available to the full industry.

Froman said that he had to evaluate whether the ruling mandating a ban on the older phones was counter to the public interest, as well as how an import and sales ban might affect competition in the United States.

He also made clear that while he disapproved the ITC decision, Samsung may still be entitled to damages in the future.

“[The] patent owner may continue to pursue its rights though the courts,” Froman said in his letter.

Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said Apple applauds the administration for its decision, adding that Samsung was “wrong to abuse the patent system in this way.” In a company statement, Samsung said it was “disappointed” in the decision, and said Apple had not been willing to negotiate fair terms on the patent.

“The ITC decision correctly recognized that Samsung has been negotiating in good faith and that Apple remains unwilling to take a license,” the statement said.

The ITC case was just one of dozens of legal blows traded between the rival firms in courts around the globe. Last summer, a California jury ruled that Samsung had infringed on Apple’s patents and awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages. Those damages were later reduced. by U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh.

A separate ITC decision determining whether Samsung products infringed on Apple’s patents was delayed Friday. That decision will be handed down Aug. 9.

Follow The Post’s new tech blog, The Switch, where technology and policy connect.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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