Obama administration overrules ITC ban on iPhone 4, iPad 2

Earlier this year the International Trade Commission (ITC) issued a ban on the import of the iPhone 4 and cell-equipped iPad 2 models after ruling that the devices violated a patent held by Samsung. The Obama administration has overruled that decision at the eleventh hour, allowing the Apple devices to continue to be imported. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, issued his ruling on Saturday, citing the best interest of consumers as his rationale for overturning the ban.

After extensive consultations with the agencies of the Trade Policy Staff Committee and the Trade Policy Review Group, as well as other interested agencies and persons, I have decided to disapprove the USITC's determination to issue an exclusion order and cease and desist order in this investigation. This decision is based on my reiew of the various policy considerations discussed above as they relate to the effect on competitive conditions in the U.S. economy and the effect on U.S. consumers.

Froman went on to say that his decision isn't an endorsement or criticism of the ITC, and that his decision to disapprove the ban doesn't mean Samsung isn't entitled to a remedy - just not this particular one, which they've been asking for since 2011.

One of the key issues sparking the veto seems to have been the FRAND-nature (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) nature of the Samsung patents at issue. These types of patents are often pooled to allow standards to be implemented, and as a result are supposed to be licensed equally so everyone can support the standard. Recently, however, companies like Motorola and Samsung have been using - some would say abusing - FRAND patents as a way to counter-sue against proprietary patents. In the EU, FRAND-patent abuse has resulted in investigations. Here, it's resulted in a veto.

Better luck next time, Samsung.

Update: Apple provided the following comment to AllThingsD:

We applaud the Administration for standing up for innovation in this landmark case. Samsung was wrong to abuse the patent system in this way.

Samsung, predictably, is not happy with the ruling. In the same article, AllThingsD quotes them as saying:

We are disappointed that the U.S. Trade Representative has decided to set aside the exclusion order issued by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). The ITC’s decision correctly recognized that Samsung has been negotiating in good faith and that Apple remains unwilling to take a license.

Source: Office of US Trade Representative

Peter Cohen