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Expert: Apple and Samsung's Battle Is a 'Pointless Tit for Tat'

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After an ITC ruling in favor of a Samsung patent, and without the president stepping in today, AT&T will be unable to import iPhone 4s. Will it matter?

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Not likely, Richard Windsor, a former global technology analyst at Nomura Securities, and the founder of the mobile handset and software commentary blog Radio Free Mobile, tells Minyanville. "President Bush didn't put a stop to the ban that was on BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) back in 2005. In those days, BlackBerry was the enterprise, and it was also running the entirety of the US government, and they still didn't block it."

In the early 2000s, a patent-holding company called NTP sued Research In Motion, the company now known as BlackBerry, for patent infringement. In 2005, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia decided that RIM had willfully infringed NTP's patents, and Judge James Spencer ordered RIM to pay damages and to cease and desist the infringement of those patents. That would have led to a total shutdown of all BlackBerrys in the US, a great many of which were used by government officials. President Bush did not step in to overturn the injunction, but fortunately for BlackBerry, the companies settled in 2006 for $612.5 million.

But this precedent is not the only reason why Windsor feels the ban will likely continue. "It's not going to affect iPhone shipments that much, is it?"

The iPhone 5S is expected to arrive sometime this fall, as is the iPad 5. Both devices will make the banned products obsolete, as the iPhone 4S will take its predecessor's place as the entry level Apple phone (unless a much-rumored, cheaper iPhone does that), and the iPad 3 will replace the second iteration of the tablet.

"I don't think it'll be that big of a hit. It's much more, 'Let's make some noise: We got iPhone banned!' without having any actual impact on Apple.

Demonstrating how thickly embroiled in legal dispute these two companies are, there is another lawsuit playing out right now, with the ITC just yesterday announcing it is delaying a decision on whether certain Samsung mobile phones and tablets infringe on Apple patents. That decision will be made a week from today, on August 9.

"This pointless tit for tat is costing them a fortune -- much more than they'll ever pay each other in damages," Windsor says. "I reckon they'll probably end up settling sometime this year."

Several pundits and politicians disagree, including writers at Fortune magazine and CNN, and four Senators (two Republic, two Democrat), who cite the danger of letting the ITC ruling set a precedent for tech companies to abuse FRAND licensing as a major concern. They believe President Obama could help set better legal examples in future cases like this one, where the patent holder (Samsung) is not actually using the patented device and has already agreed to license the patent, and where the offending part of a product is not a crucial part of the overall design or appeal of the offending device (iPhone).

Ironically, if Obama employed the seldom-invoked power of overturning an ITC order, it would be the first time since 1987, when President Reagan overturned a ban on certain Samsung products.

Disclosure: Minaynville Studios, a division of Minyanville Media, has a business relationship with BlackBerry.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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