President Barack Obama added an unexpected twist to the patent wars when he took the extraordinarily rare step of vetoing the International Trade Commission's own trade sanctions against Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) last week.
The trade commission had ruled that Apple violated some of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd's patents, and the commission was set to ban outright several key Apple products, such as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and the iPad 2 and 3G models – all sold by AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), among others.
This marks the first time in 25 years that an American president has overruled an ITC ban or set of sanctions in such a way, drawing the White House – along with the rest of the Executive Branch – into the bitter patent dispute between the two technology titans.
Courts in the United States and the Republic of Korea have – unsurprisingly – turned in a split result. American courts tend to side with Apple, while Korean courts have tended to side with Samsung, although in neither country has support for the "home team" been unequivocal.
Judgments in other jurisdictions in the European Union, Japan, and Australia have all broken different ways, but again with no unequivocal "you-are-right-they-are-wrong" decision in any case. The global patent battle has continued for more than two years now, with no clear victor emerging – yet.
What the Obama Intervention Could Mean for Apple
But President Obama's veto brings the dispute into a dramatic new phase. With several years of indecisive court battles, this may prove to be just what Apple needs to bring this particular patent war to a close in its favor. The ruling has already had a devastating effect on Samsung's shares on the Seoul exchange.
When you consider all the issues at play, the tremendous sums of money at stake, the impact to the American economy, and the sheer number of jobs in the balance …
The President had no choice — or did he?