The Obama administration has decided not to use its veto powers to overturn a ban on the import of certain aging Samsung devices - a ban that had been won by Apple at the US International Trade Commission.
"After carefully weighing policy considerations, including the impact on consumers and competition, advice from agencies, and information from interested parties, I have decided to allow" the import ban, said Obama's man on the spot, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, in a statement obtained by Bloomberg.*
This August, the US ITC ruled in favor of Apple's infringement allegations regarding patent 7,479,949 – issued to "Jobs, et al." – related to multi-touch graphical user interface tech, and patent 7,912,501, related to audio-jack insertion and removal.
Not that Froman's recommendation is a punishing one for Samsung. The devices covered by the ban include a basketful of oldies and not-so-goodies, such as Sammy's Captivate, Continuum, Fascinate, and a few other devices that didn't exactly set the world on fire.
What likely frosts Samsung more than the banning of some geriatric kit is the fact that the US ITC had also imposed an import ban on some older Apple iDevices, but that ban never took effect: Obama minion Froman recommended that the USITC not enforce the ban on Apple kit – a decision that "disappointed" the South Korean government.
That government may very well also be disappointed by the perceived double standard when it comes to the Obama administration's attitude to import bans on American versus South Korean companies. However, Bloomberg reported this Sunday that Froman said he had made it "absolutely clear" to both Samsung and the South Korean government that his decisions have "nothing, zero, to do with the nationality of the parties involved."
You can choose to take that statement as either honesty or politically inspired mendacity, but truth be told, the infringed upon-patents in each case are sufficiently different to have led Froman to different recommendations.
As Computerworld's Jonny Evans argued in his admittedly pro-Cupertino "Apple Holic" column this Monday, the patent that Samsung accused Apple of violating – 7,706,348, related to CDMA encoding and decoding – can be subject to "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" (FRAND) consideration, meaning it's essential to industry-standard interoperability and functionality, and thus necessary for keeping markets reasonably competitive without monopolistic overreach.
The patents in the Apple versus Samsung case, on the other hand, can be considered to relate to Apple-specific features that don't prevent others from achieving the same feature and functionality goals in their own way. They're not industry standards, but rather product-differentiation patents.
You may now argue this distinction among yourselves in the comment section. ®
When we fired up the the website of the Office of the United States Trade Representative to check on Froman's statement, we found the following: "Due to the lapse in funding, the USTR website will remain live, but without updates, for the duration of the government shutdown."
For its part, the USITC's website announces: "During shutdown, the online services provided on the Commission's World Wide Web site, at www.usitc.gov, will be unavailable," but promises, "Restoration of service is expected as quickly as possible after appropriations become available."
Bloomberg is apparently fortunate enough to be on a mailing list to which The Reg is not privy.