February 10, 2014
Samsung Electronics Probe Ended By Justice Department
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
There has been an on-going legal fight between Apple and Samsung — the number 1 and number 2 Smartphone makers globally — that has raged over 10 countries over the last few years. It has resulted in judgments, appeals, sales bans and a US Justice Department investigation.
The Justice Department has announced that it will close its investigation of Samsung Electronics' use of standard-essential patents to attack rivals. The DOJ will continue to monitor related patent litigation, however.
The DOJ investigation was started when the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in June 2013 that Apple had infringed on Samsung's patents. Reuters reports that this ruling banned the sale of some older iPads and iPhones in the US. The patent in question was a wireless communications patent that covered technology found in older iPads and iPhones that are still sold by Apple and their partners.
The patent involved is a standards-essential (SEP) patent, which must be licensed on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory terms (FRAND). Such patents are to ensure different devices can work together and are expected to be widely licensed.
Gigaom reports that cases such as this throw more light on the role of such FRAND patents. The original purpose was to provide a cheap and efficient way for companies to obtain the rights to standardized technology. Instead, they are being used against rival companies by denying them rights and taking them to court over infringement claims.
An ITC court decision can be sought at the same time that civil or federal litigation is going on. Many companies use the ITC as a sort of backdoor way to harass rivals because the decisions are handed down much faster.
Both the DOJ and the US Patent and Trademark Office have argued against such sales bans, saying they should only be done in very rare cases, otherwise companies holding the patents "could use the threat of an exclusion order to obtain licensing terms that are more onerous than would be justified by the value of the technology itself."
The DOJ's decision to drop the investigation comes after President Obama issued a last minute order to reverse the ban on iPhones and iPads, because the ban would hurt competition in the US. CNET reports that the Obama administration decision also said the US needed to pay close attention to SEPs and their licensing to promote "innovation and economic progress." Additionally, MacRumors reports that this is the first time since 1987 that an American President has interfered in an ITC decision.
The battle between Samsung and Apple is far from over. The telecommunications giants will return to court at the end of March over new gadgets such as the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy s3. They have agreed to a mediation session by mid-February to try to settle it out of court.