Apple vs. Samsung: The Referee Scores a Knockout

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The ruling released this weekend by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) overturning a ban on sales of certain products made by Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) will have little to no effect on Apple’s revenues or earnings. But it does indicate that at least one arena where companies like Apple and Samsung Electronics — the putative loser in this case — contest patent cases may be tightening its rules.

Michael Froman, the USTR, rejected the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) ruling banning a sale of Apple’s iPad II and phones, including the iPhone 4 and earlier models, claiming that the Obama administration wants to promote “innovation and economic progress” by encouraging the licensing of “standards essential patents” on “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” terms.

The company took the case to the ITC because that body typically acts more quickly than do U.S. courts, and it has been friendlier to patent holders. Froman’s decision likely put an end to the ITC’s favored status.

What Froman has done is disapprove the ITC’s ban on further sales of Apple devices, saying that considering U.S. policies as outlined in his letter “as they related to the effect on competitive conditions in the U.S. economy and the effect on U.S. consumers.”

It is perhaps hard to believe, but in this instance, the federal government has said that a consumer interest is more important than Samsung’s ability to wring a few more dollars out of Apple. Having earlier, cheaper models of the iPad and the iPhone available is important to consumers and to the USTR. There is no further appeal to Froman’s decision.