Samsung’s Patent Battle Revenge: ITC Bans Several iDevices From U.S. Import


The International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled today that Apple infringed on a Samsung patent, dealing a retaliatory blow to the Cupertino gadget giant. It comes less than a year after Apple was awarded $1.05 billion in damages from a separate patent dispute with Samsung, when a jury largely agreed that Samsung had copied both the iPhone and iPad.

Unfortunately for Samsung, today’s big win won’t affect the newest and most popular Apple devices. The ruling extends only to the following AT&T-specific versions of out-of-cycle products: iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, the original iPad 3G, and iPad 2 3G. These devices are now subject to a legally binding import and sales ban.

“Today’s decision has no impact on the availability of Apple products in the United States,” said an Apple representative in a statement to AllThingsD. “Samsung is using a strategy which has been rejected by courts and regulators around the world. They’ve admitted that it’s against the interests of consumers in Europe and elsewhere, yet here in the United States Samsung continues to try to block the sale of Apple products by using patents they agreed to license to anyone for a reasonable fee.”

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The patent dispute revolves around technology related to the encoding and decoding of 3G wireless transmissions. The ITC found Apple in violation of two out of five claims for a single patent, No. 7,706,348. The full 16-page order can be found here.

"We believe the ITC's final determination has confirmed Apple's history of free-riding on Samsung's technological innovations," said an official statement from Samsung.

Apple plans to appeal, and the White House could veto the ruling within 60 days. It is unclear if President Barack Obama will step in, having just yesterday targeted so-called “patent trolls” – shell companies that target businesses based on their usage of certain technologies. President Obama signed several executive orders in the hope that crackdowns on these antagonistic companies, which have primarily infiltrated the tech industry, would cultivate more innovation.

Patent disputes have been a disruptive and astronomically expensive endeavor for mobile phone companies since the dawn of the age of the smartphone. Many claims are bogged down by overly bureaucratic legal systems (Apple and Samsung alone are involved in patent disputes in no fewer than 10 different countries), and sometimes the legal costs seem to outweigh the potential for a win.

“The result [of patent disputes] has been tens of millions of dollars in litigation costs, heightened tensions among competitors and a growing consensus within the technology community that the patent system is hindering, not helping, innovation,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Ashby Jones.

Though largely symbolic, Samsung’s win is compounded by its recent dominance of the smartphone market. In the first quarter of 2013, Samsung sold 64 million units compared to Apple’s 38 million. That translates to Samsung controlling 30.8 percent of the entire market share – with Apple’s stake at only 18.2 percent.

Apple is expected to announce a successor to its best-selling iPhone 5 at its World Wide Developer’s Conference, which begins on Monday. With a diehard Apple fan base, the next iteration of the iPhone is guaranteed to be a global hit. It may very well shift the balance from Seoul back to Cupertino, regardless of ongoing lawsuits around the globe.

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