The Department of Justice on Friday announced the end of an investigation into a controversial campaign by Samsung to obtain an import import of Apple devices that allegedly violated patents.
In a statement, the DOJ said it would not take action against Samsung, but issued a statement expressing disapproval of Samsung’s use of so-called FRAND patents, which must be licensed on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory Terms, to seek an import ban:
in many cases, there is a risk that the patent holder could use the threat of an exclusion order to obtain licensing terms that are more onerous than would be justified by the value of the technology itself, effectively exploiting the market power obtained through the standards-setting process.
The statement comes after President Obama, in what may have been of the easiest decision of his Presidency, issued a last-minute order to reverse a ban on iPhones and iPads. Samsung had obtained the import ban order from the International Trade Commission, which found that the Apple devices infringed certain Samsung patents.
The ITC’s decision, which marked yet another low point for America’s dysfunctional patent system, came after Samsung sought an import ban at the agency at the same time it was fighting Apple over patents in federal court. In recent years, patent owners of all kinds have begun using the ITC, which can act faster than courts, as a backdoor way to harass rivals with patent claims.
The ITC case also throws more light on the role of FRAND patents, which are supposed to provide a cheap and efficient way for companies to obtain the rights to standardized technology. In recent years, however companies have begun using the FRAND patents in a more treacherous fashion — refusing to license the patents, and instead filing infringement claims against rivals.
Last month, the cable industry sued a patent troll owned by Apple and Motorola that has allegedly been using FRAND patents dating from the mid-1990’s to make legal threats against hundreds of companies.