Did Obama rightly intervene in Apple dispute?

US President Barack Obama's recent decision to intervene in the high-profile patent dispute between Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics has ruffled many a feather in Korea, and US media reports cheering on Obama are not helping the situation.

Regardless of whether Obama did the right thing, the biggest complaint here is about the amount of strain the move has placed on relations between the two countries, with many asking if Korea could have done the same if the tables were turned.

"Samsung people and even ordinary Koreans are asking themselves, would the Korean government have been able to stick to its guns the way Obama is said to have done if the same situation had occurred vice versa?" said one source close to Samsung who wished to remain anonymous.

"No, and that's why they feel disillusioned and shortchanged somehow."

Korea's Trade Ministry lodged an official complaint, but that was about all the government could do.

Over the weekend, the US president exercised his veto authority for the first time since 1987 to disable the International Trade Commission from blocking older Apple devices including the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and iPad2 from entering the country.

On August 5, Bloomberg's editors claimed Obama had changed the rules of patent conflicts "in a good way".

Their bottom line was that tech companies would be discouraged from recklessly pursuing litigations, while essential technologies would become cheaper.

While it's difficult to say Bloomberg represents American opinion or even the media there, the report from an outlet of its stature appears to reflect to some extent the US perception of this case, add fuel to the fire of burning Apple effigies in Korea.

"This has all the makings of becoming a bilateral conflict, and that's the least in Korea's interest," said on industry watcher.

In Korea, speculation is now abounding over what fuelled Obama's decision, including renewed rumours on Obama's relationship with the late Jobs and Apple's "White House lobbying".

"It was an inevitable choice for the US president to side with Apple," the Munhwa Ilbo said, citing, interestingly enough, US media on Apple's donations of over US$330,000 (S$416,000) to Obama between 2011 and 2012.

Apple CEO Tim Cook - who is also known for his commitment to the Obama administration to create jobs in the US and not outside as Jobs had done - had personally committed some US$2,300.

Like any other sizeable corporation, Apple operates a special blend of specialists who stay in Washington and whose main job is to lobby and coordinate with the politicians, including the highest politician, the president.

Samsung has already appealed, but it appeared to be seething at the veto, especially because despite being older models, the iPhones and iPads are still steady sellers among mid-end users, contrary to some claims of the devices having lost their sizzle.

Samsung is also reticent about having to go through the US legal system for the patent license because it knows it may be up against even more nationalistic courts.

Eyes will now be on how the Korean government handles the situation - such as through quiet but persistent lobbying or subtle tit-for-tat moves - and how it will further affect the rocky relationship between Samsung and Apple, which still enjoy unique ties with the former being both supplier and client for the Cupertino-based tech company.

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