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Bipartisan senator group goes to bat for Apple in Samsung dispute

Letter to Obama & Co. doesn't mention fruity firm, just plugs 'innovation', but...

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A bipartisan group of US senators has written to the Obama administration's US trade representative, recommending that he take a closer look at US International Trade Commission's ruling that would bar Apple from importing some of its older iPhones and iPads into the US market.

Their reasoning involves what they claim is misuse of fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) patent policy, plus the threat of impending danger to one of the most overused buzzwords of 2013: innovation.

"If companies implementing standards cannot rely on FRAND commitments," wrote Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and James Risch (R-ID) to newly installed USTR Michael Froman, "they will be less likely to participate in standard setting, which will drive up costs for consumers and reduce the pace of innovation."

The letter discusses the ITC's investigation 337-TA-794, that agency's response to a complaint filed by Samsung against Apple, alleging infringement of US patents 7,706,348, 7,486,644, 6,771,980, 6,879,843, and 7,450,114.

This June, the ITC found that Apple had infringed patent 7,706,348 – or, in legalese, "the '348 patent" – and ruled that Apple be barred from importing into the US the AT&T versions of its iPhone 4, 3GS, and 3, and iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G. Among those products, Apple sells only the iPad 2 and iPhone 4 in the US – but recent revelations about the importance of the iPhone 4 to Cupertino's bottom line make even that one product worth fighting for.

Besides, it's the principle of the thing – and the battle over FRAND implementation.

An ITC ruling does not go into force automatically. President Obama has to sign off on it first, within 60 days of the ruling – and with the ruling having been handed down on June 4, the clock is ticking. And however obliquely, the four senators are weighing in on Apple's side.

Despite their assertion that their interest lies only in cases that involve the matter of standard-essential patents (SEPs), and despite their claim that "... we take no position on the merits of the case now," their argument clearly supports Apple's position.

The senators' letter was released to the public in conjunction with a hearing on Tuesday of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights that focused on "Standard Essential Patent Disputes and Antitrust Law".

Dry stuff, perhaps – but billions of dollars' worth of dry stuff. ®

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