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Friday, August 9, 2013

Trade Commission Orders Ban on Some Samsung Products

Updated, 3:11 p.m. | Added commentary from Apple and Samsung and more background on the patent dispute.

Apple is on a winning streak in its ongoing patent feud with Samsung Electronics.

The United States International Trade Commission on Friday upheld a preliminary finding that Samsung’s mobile products had violated two Apple patents. The decision, unless vetoed by the president, will result in an import ban on some of Samsung’s mobile devices.

The commission’s order did not specifically list which Samsung products would be banned. But Susan Kohn Ross, an international trade lawyer for Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, said that because Apple initially brought its lawsuit against Samsung in 2011, it likely would affect older products.

The decision marks another victory for Apple in its series of patent disputes with Samsung. On Saturday, the Obama administration vetoed the federal commission’s ban on Apple mobile products in a separate case brought by Samsung.

Also on Friday, Apple made arguments to a Federal Appeals Court for a permanent injunction against the sale of some Samsung mobile products, a request that was previously denied. The court has not yet made a decision.

Apple and Samsung, which together make all of the profits in the handset industry, have been fighting each other with patents in the United States and other countries. Last year, a California jury awarded Apple $1 billion in damages after deciding that Samsung had violated the American company’s mobile patents. The amount was later reduced to $599 million.

In Friday’s case with the International Trade Commission, it was Apple’s turn to take the gloves off. The company accused Samsung of violating four patents, including a design patent for the general look of an iPhone â€" a rectangle with rounded corners â€" and a utility patent for a method to detect when headphones are plugged into a device.

The commission said it found that Samsung had violated the patent regarding headphone detection and another patent covering the mechanics for touch-screen technology.

Samsung could implement workarounds to the design of its hardware and software to circumvent the ban. In a statement expressing its disappointment on Friday, the company suggested it was already doing that.

“Apple has been stopped from trying to use its overbroad design patents to achieve a monopoly on rectangles and rounded corners,” said Adam Yates, a Samsung spokesman. “Samsung will continue to launch many innovative products and we have already taken measures to ensure that all our of products will continue to be available in the United States.”

Apple was pleased with the outcome.

“With today’s decision, the ITC has joined courts around the world in Japan, Korea, Germany, Netherlands and California by standing up for innovation and rejecting Samsung’s blatant copying of Apple’s products,” said Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman. “Protecting real innovation is what the patent system should be about.

The Obama administration, already facing political pressure, has 60 days to review the order. Earlier this week, the South Korean government expressed concern over the administration’s decision to overturn the trade commission’s order for a ban on some Apple products, calling the move an act of “protectionism.”

Robert P. Merges, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said it was possible the administration would overturn Friday’s decision as part of a broader move to diminish the power of patent litigation as an industry weapon.