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Worry over U.S. protectionism seen in Samsung-Apple patent dispute

Worry over U.S. protectionism seen in Samsung-Apple patent dispute

Posted August. 05, 2013 06:27,   


The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) decided to impose import ban on Apple’s products in June this year, judging that Apple’s old models infringed upon some of Samsung Electronics’ patents. But the Barack Obama administration of the U.S. overturned the ITC ruling on Saturday by openly siding with Apple.

This is the first veto by the U.S. administration since 1987. On the veto power, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement, "This decision is based on my review of the various policy considerations ... as they relate to the effect on competitive conditions in the US economy and the effect on U.S. consumers." And this is effectively admitting that there was intense lobby within the U.S. political and business circles.

The U.S. had nurtured its industries by using strong protectionist trade policy. Since the effectuation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, however, Washington has been faithfully maintaining free trade despite slight differences in stance between the Democrats and Republicans. Hence, the Obama administration’s veto exercise makes outsiders to doubt Washington’s very commitment to free trade. It is also regrettable that the decision runs counter to acts and words of the U.S. president who has urged innovation of enterprises and boosting of national competitiveness through research and development. If the economy is in the doldrums and jobless rate increases, a policymaker could be tempted to take a measure to protect companies of his or her own country. Trade protectionism, however, comes back to haunt the country as the boomerang of deteriorated corporate competitiveness. The Obama administration seems to be oblivious of the lessons from history by making a disappointing choice only to seek short-term interest.

Patent infringement disputes between Samsung and Apple are an issue between companies. It is logical and rational for the government to keep neutral on a decision by ITC in charge of disputes between companies. ITC itself also sided with Apple in a case in the past, in which Samsung filed a lawsuit against the U.S. tech company over patent infringements. The jury of a district court in California also issued a verdict ordering Samsung to pay damage, saying Samsung violated six of Apple’s patents. The fact that the verdict in the U.S. was issued in Apple’s favor to serve U.S. national interest is evidenced by rulings to the opposite effect in Europe and Japan. Despite such practice, ITC ruled in June that Apple violated some Samsung technical patents, which the Obama administration overrode Saturday. Some critics inside the U.S. also even criticize that the recent vote power was misguided.

ITC is set to make a ruling Friday on Samsung’s alleged infringement of Apple’s patents. The world will keep a keen eye on whether ITC makes fair judgment. Governments of different countries are obliged to exert efforts to ensure that patent disputes between companies are not exploited as measure for protectionism.