The International Trade Commission will review an earlier decision by a judge that has ruled in favor of Apple in a patent infringement case filed by Samsung. If overturned, this could potentially mean that Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad may be banned from being sold within the United States.
As part of the two companies' string of patent-related lawsuits against each other, Samsung earlier filed a complaint with the ITC against Apple for infringing on four of its technology patents relating to 3G communications. In September, administrative law Judge James Gildea ruled in favor of Apple, saying that Samsung has failed to prove that Apple infringed on the patents, and that the South Korean company was likewise unable to prove that it had a domestic industry that used the patents in the first place.
Having a domestic industry that uses the patents (for the production or manufacture of devices) is a requisite for jurisdiction by the ITC, which can enforce import restrictions that infringe on local patents. That judgement is still subject to a review by the Commission sitting en banc, although observers have earlier speculated that “Apple at the ITC is bulletproof.”
The ITC could have opted to simply uphold the judge's decision, but it seems Samsung may still be given a chance to prove the merits of its case, as the Commission said it will review the matter. If the decision is overturned — that is, Apple were found to have violated Samsung's patents — then there is a chance that the ITC will issue an injunction against affected devices, namely the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.
The ITC has sought to be briefed on how it should consider “standards essential” patents, given that such patents are normally expected to be widely licensed out by their owners to other parties on fair, non-discriminatory, and reasonably-priced terms. This is to ensure cross-compatibility of devices regardless of brand and maker.
As two of the Samsung patents in question are said to be standards-essential, the the decision may hinge on whether Samsung should have licensed these out in a fair manner in the first place, thereby favoring Apple. If not, then Apple may be held liable.
For now, amid their legal disputes in at least 10 countries, Apple and Samsung maintain a mutually-beneficial supply relationship that both parties say should last until end of 2013. There's no saying at this point whether the two companies will remain in good terms beyond that, given that Apple has started distributing its supply contracts to other vendors.