The US International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled on Friday (9 August) that Samsung infringed on two Apple patents, making it almost certain that some devices from the South Korean manufacturer will face a US import ban.
The ITC decision is likely to increase political tension between Seoul and Washington.
The ruling comes only days after South Korea’s trade ministry voiced concerns that President Barack Obama had overturned the ITC’s US import ban on some Apple devices on account of infringing Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) from Samsung.
The two Apple patents that Samsung is judged to have infringed – deemed non-SEP – cover the detection of headphone jacks and operation of touchscreens.
An import ban will come into force within 60 days following the 9 August ruling unless the White House issues a veto during that time.
Richard Windsor, an ex-Nomura technology analyst and founder of the mobile-focused blog Radio Free Mobile, believes a presidential veto is unlikely.
“This is because these patents are not Standard Essential Patents, and therefore not subject to FRAND,” he said.
Holder of SEPs typically must agree to license technology in a free, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner (FRAND) but that does not apply to patents considered commercial and non-essential.
Apple, not surprisingly, welcomed the ruling.
“The ITC has joined courts around the world in Japan, Korea, Germany, Netherlands and California by standing up for innovation and rejecting Samsung’s blatant copying of Apple’s products,” said company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet, quoted by the Financial Times (FT).
Samsung can take some comfort that four other patent infringements asserted by Apple were turned by the ITC panel, but the South Korean manufacturer was not in a celebratory mood.
“We are disappointed that the ITC has issued an exclusion order based on two of Apple’s patents,” said Adam Yates, a Samsung spokesman, in a statement quoted by the FT. “However, Apple has been stopped from trying to use its overbroad design patents to achieve a monopoly on rectangles and rounded corners.”
Windsor says the ITC decision is unlikely to have a big impact on Samsung.
“First, the affected products are now so old that they make up less than 1 per cent of Samsung’s US revenues,” he said. “Second, Samsung has demonstrated – and the judge has accepted – that subsequent products have implemented workarounds that no longer infringe [Apple] patents.”