What Does Samsung's Patent Win Mean for Apple?

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The dispute between Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  )  and Samsung is reaching into the highest office of the land. The decision will enter a 60-day review process that includes President Obama. Bloomberg reports that the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled early this week that Apple would be banned from importing the iPhone 4 and the iPad 2 3G because the devices infringe a Samsung patent. While rarely used, part of the review process that accompanies this type of decision includes the power of the president to overturn the ruling on public policy grounds. The ruling is the first big loss for Apple in its ongoing patent war with Samsung and could cost the company significantly, depending how various other issues unfold.

The nature of the case
There are several elements to understanding the nature of the case, including the patent itself, the general legal framework, and the review process. The patent deals with a protocol for detecting phone numbers in the body of text and allowing them to be dialed directly or stored into the phone's contact list. Where the issue gets more complicated is that the patent covers a feature generally held to be part of industry standard communications. There are special legal implications of this last feature.

Under the federal standard, the holder of a patent that is part of an industry standard must license the underlying technology on "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" terms to anyone that asks. Central to the dispute between Apple and Samsung is that Samsung claims it offered such terms to Apple. The terms offered, according to Apple, were for 2.4% of the average sale price of every iPhone and offending iPad that used the technology. Apple contends that this offer doesn't meet the standard of "fair" or "reasonable."

The ITC's ruling would place an import ban of the offending products -- both of which are manufactured primarily in China -- and will take effect after a 60-day review process. During that period, the commission can consider the evidence to alter its ruling, and the White House has the power to intervene. Historically, there has been very little interference from any president on these matters, but Obama is known to be generally opposed to import bans. On Tuesday, the White House issued a recommendation that Congress limited the ability of the ITC to impose such bans in cases of this kind. Presidential interference could have a long-term impact on the administration of patent protection, and I would be disappointed if this case becomes a test balloon.

Who is affected?

While Apple and Samsung are obviously the most directly affected by the decision, AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS  ) will also feel the impact. While other carriers sell versions of the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 3G, only the models specific to these two carriers were subjects of the case. The ban, therefore, will limit each of these carriers ability to sell these devices and could limit choices, specifically of lower-priced options, for each. The offending devices carried on other networks were not specifically addressed, although Samsung reserved the right to seek action against these in the future.

The impact on the smartphone side is more severe, but if Apple releases a cheaper version of the iPhone this fall, it would probably become a preferred choice of consumers seeking a less costly option. If so, it will go a long way to mitigating any damages that Apple might have felt. The iPhone 4 continues to be a strong seller for Apple, so developments in the case could have an impact of both the company and the stock over the next two months. While it's too soon to been deeply concerned, shareholders should keep track of the situation moving forward.

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2013, at 10:46 PM, jabstrat wrote:

    " The impact on the smartphone side is more severe, but if Apple releases a cheaper version of the iPhone this fall, it would probably become a preferred choice of consumers seeking a less costly option ..."

    By the time Apple's appeal works it way through the system, selling the iPhone 4 in the U.S.will be a non-issue. Same for the older iPad models. This is really much to do about nothing.

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2013, at 4:21 AM, SDdiver wrote:

    Hmm... I thought that this only affected the AT&T versions and not the Verizon version of the iPhone 4. Also, the patent in question - the '348 patent (7,706,3480) deals with "apparatus and method for encoding/decoding transport format combination indicator in CDMA mobile communication system". What you are describing sounds more like the data detectors patent the Apple had used against, I believe, HTC...

  • Report this Comment On June 12, 2013, at 5:44 PM, theSloop wrote:

    I would not mind if this were overruled by the administration. Consider that the expressed intention for the ITC with Section 337 of the Tariff Act is to address unfair trade practices. Typically the IP infringement should be related to counterfeit and misrepresented products, as well as those who simply infringe or are attempting to skirt antitrust laws or damage domestic businesses. The reality is this Samsung Apple case is a license value disagreement and it is another example of the general patent mess in smart phones. Samsung by the letter of the law is extending the ITC reach beyond the meaning of unfair business practices, with a non equitable bullying technique that is in this case an unfair practice in itself. No saints in this mess, but the government needs to be on the path to solutions for our general welfare.

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