Hi there. It's been a while since I last wrote about the smartphone patent wars. I consider that a really, really good thing. I really don't like the patent wars. They're little more than a proxy conflict led by Apple and Microsoft to slow down the emergence of competing OEMs in what has obviously become the next big computing market. It is, however, a proxy war they are undeniably winning. Microsoft has inked royalty deals with nearly every Android OEM of note except the Google-owned Motorola (big surprise there), Apple has a nice little licensing arrangement with HTC, and a $600 million verdict against Samsung with another trial considered to be in Apple's favor to come.
So today the Android world got a bit of what some people are calling "good news" - the ITC (International Trade Commission, a US quasi-judiciary body) has decided that one of Samsung's standards-essential 3G patents was violated by a bunch o' Apple products. Of course, all but one of the accused products have since been relegated to the iGraveyard (the discontinued products are: iPhone 3G / 3GS, iPad 3G, iPad 2 3G). The one still on-sale product found to infringe is the iPhone 4 - but only AT&T's version. The result of the decision is the standard ITC banhammer - in 60 days, the AT&T iPhone 4 will go from "pretty outdated smartphone" to "slightly more outdated contraband."
60 court-days from now, by the way, is August 5th (the ITC doesn't work weekends, of course). Let's think about that date for a moment, shall we? In 60 days, Apple will likely have begun winding down - or have halted - additional iPhone 4 shipments to AT&T, as is standard fare for the most-outdated iPhone every summer / early fall. Why? Because the next iPhone announcement will almost definitely happen some time between August and October. The AT&T iPhone 4 is basically so close to its end of life that a ban won't affect Apple's bottom line in any appreciable way, if it affects it at all. I'm sure Apple will appeal this decision, because it is a slap in the face, but I doubt they'll pursue it with much vigor. (Apple itself has commented now, saying it will appeal, and that the ban will have no impact on the availability of Apple products in the US.)
And so, what was solved here today? Absolutely nothing. The only winners are the lawyers, who get a few hundred more billable hours of time as this case about products that don't matter and a patent that isn't infringed by newer versions of those products drags on another 6 months. Great. That's progress, or something.