Trade Case Puts Apple In Washington's Sights : All Tech Considered Apple has been notoriously disinterested in Washington politics. But two recent decisions coming from the Obama administration — one involving iPhones, the other dealing with e-books — indicate that Washington is increasingly interested in Apple.

Trade Case Puts Apple In Washington's Sights

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: We start with Apple. It scored a big victory this weekend in its ongoing patent war with Samsung. The Obama administration overturned a ban on imports of the iPhone 4 and the iPad 2 that had been imposed by the U.S. International Trade Commission. The last time an administration overturned an ITC ban was in 1987 under President Ronald Reagan.

NPR's Laura Sydell joins me now to discuss this rare move. And, Laura, first, why was this ban imposed, and why did the Obama administration overturn it?

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Well, it was imposed because Apple didn't want to pay the price that Samsung was charging on certain patents. And the Obama administration - in fact, any administration - has a right to step in and overturn a decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission, though it is very rare. In this case, Michael Froman, who is the U.S. trade representative, said after consulting with various parties, he decided that the potential harm of this sales ban would be significant to consumers and the U.S. economy.

CORNISH: But we're talking about, you know, the iPhone 4 and the iPad 2, these are older models of these products?

SYDELL: That is very true. They are older models. Not only are we talking about older models, but in this case, it only affects products sold by AT&T. So I spoke with an analyst who said Apple hardly sells any iPad 2s anymore, and it only sells about one million AT&T iPhone 4s. So the appeal of that product, however, is on the lower end - people who can't really afford the most expensive and newest Apple products.

I think the ruling had more to do with a concern that Samsung was using what are essentially industry standard patents to hold Apple hostage. You know, anyone who uses a mobile tablet and connects wirelessly is probably using technology that follows these standard patents. And as you know, Samsung lost a big patent case to Apple last year, and it has to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. So there's some sense that Samsung may be using these patents to get back at Apple.

CORNISH: Will this affect other companies?

SYDELL: As a matter of fact, it likely will. For example, Dolby Industries and Qualcomm also have these kind of standard patents. And this may affect the price they're going to be able to charge people to use those patents. That could be good for consumers. It could bring down the price of a lot of devices.

CORNISH: So politically, should Apple take today's move as a sign that the Obama administration is on its side?

SYDELL: Ah, Washington giveth and taketh away. Meanwhile, Apple lost an antitrust suit last month over e-Books, and the Justice Department just announced what it would like Apple to do in order to make up for this. And the DOJ is saying: Apple, from now on, when you are negotiating with anyone in your iTunes store - that means TV, film, anything - we want you to report back to us.

So in that sense, I think Apple is probably not so happy with the Obama administration.


CORNISH: That's NPR's Laura Sydell. Laura, thank you.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

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