Obama overturns Apple iPad and iPhone sales ban

The Obama government has overturned the rapidly approaching US sales ban on Apple's iPhone 4 and iPad 2, stepping in at the final moment to deny Samsung seeing its rival's phones and tablets pulled from shelves. The decision, revealed in a letter from US Trade Representative Ambassador Michael B.G. Froman at the Executive Office of the President, means Apple has escaped seeing its older models barred from sale, and comes after Froman supposedly reviewed the disagreements around the FRAND patent licensing process at the core of the legal battle between the Cupertino firm and Samsung.

Froman's final judgement, he writes, is down to the contentious and unsettled position on FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) licensing, as well as the potential impact such a ban would have on the US economy. "This decision is based on my review of the various policy considerations" the ambassador says, "as they relate to the effect on competitive conditions in the US economy and the effect on US consumers."

Samsung argued – and convinced the court back in June – that Apple had failed to properly license 3G GSM patents it holds, and as such was infringing the intellectual property in using the technology in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4. Apple, however, countered that Samsung had not offered licensing terms that were fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory, despite its best efforts to negotiate.

The ensuing sales ban was a surprise decision in an ongoing war between the two companies, which has generally seen judges stick to financial penalties in the US – such as the $1.1bn judgement against Samsung last year – rather than pulling products from shelves.

At the time, the prospect of the Obama government stepping in and overruling the ITC decision was seen as an unlikely one. Still, Froman is keen to point out that the Administration's decision should not be seen as in any way commenting on the ITC's actual ruling – nor, indeed, on Samsung's eligibility for some sort of compensation.

"This policy decision is not an endorsement or a criticism of the Commission's decision or analysis" he writes. "My decision to disapprove this determination does not mean that the patent owner in this case is not entitled to a remedy. On the contrary, the patent owner may continue to pursue its rights through the courts."