The US International Trade Commission in Washington was scheduled to issue a final decision in Samsung's patent- infringement case yesterday. Instead, it asked for comments on how a ban would affect the market for smartphones and tablet computers. The question pertains to one of four patents that Samsung asserted against Apple, for a way that phones transmit data. The agency said it would make its decision May 31.
The notice may indicate the commission is considering a finding that Apple violated the Samsung patent. The agency may be trying to fashion a compromise giving Apple time to work around or license the patent, or to deny an import ban because of the impact on consumers and the competitive market, said Rodney Sweetland, a lawyer with Duane Morris in Washington who specialises in ITC cases.
"Were they not thinking about a violation, they would not need to ask for further information of this nature," Mr Sweetland said.
Samsung is the world's largest maker of handsets and is a major supplier of components for the iPhone. Apple dominates in the US, with 45 per cent of the smartphones sold in the fourth quarter compared to Samsung's 27 per cent, according to Neil Shah, an analyst with Boston-based Strategy Analytics.
Apple, which in 2007 energised the nascent smartphone market, contends that phones running on Google's Android operating system copy the look and features that make the iPhone unique. Cupertino, California-based Apple has been embroiled in litigation over smartphones and tablet computers on four continents.
Its biggest fight is with Samsung, with each side accusing the other of violating patents. At stake is getting a greater position in the global market for mobile devices, an industry projected by researcher Yankee Group to double to US$847 billion by 2016.
The trade commission asked for comments on what products are authorised by Samsung to use the technology covered by the patent, and whether they are acceptable substitutes for the iPhone and iPad.
The products in the case related to third- and fourth- generation Apple products that work on AT&T's wireless network. The commission said it wants to know whether an order would cover devices that run on other networks, as well as the iPhone 5 and latest iPad version.
The ITC also wants to know about licensing terms for the patent that might be considered fair, and a history of negotiations between Apple and Samsung. The agency said interested parties must submit filings by April 3.
* Bloomberg News