Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Apple's iPhone 4 gets a last-minute reprieve

August 3, 2013: 4:59 PM ET

The Obama Administration vetoes an import ban that never made much sense.

iPhone 4

iPhone 4

FORTUNE -- It was hailed by the Wall Street Journal as a "huge legal victory" for Samsung and blasted by pretty much anyone with a stake in the equitable application of U.S. patent law, from Microsoft (MSFT) to a bipartisan group of U.S. senators.

But at the last minute -- on the final day of a 60-day review period -- the Obama Administration did the right thing and vetoed an International Trade Commission import ban that was scheduled to take effect on Monday. The ban would have prevented Apple (AAPL) from bringing into the U.S. five products that are assembled for it in China, including the version of the iPhone 4 that runs on AT&T's (T) network and was one of Apple's biggest money makers last quarter.

The administration may have been concerned with the political fallout of letting a Korean manufacturer stop an American company from importing products into its own country -- especially when a U.S. court refused to ban Samsung devices that a jury found to have willfully violated several Apple patents.

But in his letter to the chairman of the ITC, Ambassador Michael Froman cited a Patent Office policy statement that got to the heart of the matter:

The Policy Statement expresses substantial concerns, which I strongly share, about the potential harms that can result from owners of standards-essential patents ("SEPS") who have made a voluntary commitment to offer to license SEPs on terms that are fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory ("FRAND"), gaining undue leverage and engaging in "patent hold-up."

Amen to that.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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