ITC Delay Hints at Possible Samsung Win in Apple Patent Fight

Apple and Samsung will have to wait a little longer to hear what the International Trade Commission's ruling on their patent infringement claims will be because the agency pushed its planned March 13 decision date out to May 31. Both companies were waiting to hear whether or not the ITC was planning on issuing a ban that could result in an injunction blocking the sale of iPhones and iPads in the United States, and there's a chance the agency is looking at siding with Samsung.

ITC may be considering giving Samsung a patent win against AppleITC may be considering giving Samsung a patent win against Apple

The ITC delayed its decision because the agency wants to collect comments on what impact blocking iPhone and iPad sales would have on the mobile device market, hinting that it may be considering siding with Samsung and ruling that Apple is, in fact, violating one of the electronic maker's mobile device patents covering smartphone data transmissions.

By stalling the final ruling, the ITC may be giving Apple some time to work around the Samsung patent or strike a licensing deal. The agency could also be looking for information to help back up a decision to deny an injunction even if it rules Apple is infringing.

"Were they not thinking about a violation, they would not need to ask for further information of this nature," Rodney Sweetland, a Washington-based attorney specializing in ITC cases, told Bloomberg.

The ITC panel overseeing the infringement complaint also asked for clarification on whether or not the specific Samsung patent in question covers iPhone and iPad use on all cell networks, or just AT&T, and if the iPhone 5 and fourth generation iPad would be included, too. Questions like that are red flags for Apple's legal team and most likely they're already working on strategies to keep the ITC's thinly veiled hints from becoming reality.

Apple and Samsung have been fighting in courts around the world since 2011 over mobile device patent infringement allegations. While Apple has scored the biggest wins so far, this ITC ruling, should it swing in Samsung's favor, could be a serious blow for the company and mark Samsung's first major success in the ongoing patent fight.

Assuming the ruling says Apple is infringing on Samsung's patent, that doesn't mean iPhone and iPad sales would immediately stop because any import and sales ban request must be reviewed by the President of the United States, along with the U.S. Trade Representative, who can shoot down an injunction. The ITC has historically given companies time to work around patent infringement before enforcing injunctions, too.

Apple could attempt to negotiate a licensing deal, but so far that isn't something either side has been able to bring together. Samsung said it wants 2.4 percent of the price for every iPhone sold -- a figure that's been called surprisingly high. Apple apparently rejected the deal, and Samsung says the company never made a counter offer.

So far, the Apple and Samsung patent fight has been a series of relatively big wins for Apple and a few minor wins for Samsung. Depending on the ITC's plans, however, we could finally be facing Samsung's first substantial win in their ongoing patent war.