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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Trade Commission Orders Ban on Some Samsung Products

Updated, 8:26 p.m. | An American trade agency banned the import of some products made by Samsung Electronics, scoring another victory for Apple in its continuing patent feud with the South Korean company.

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 most likely would affect older products.

Ms. Ross said the only thing clear about the decision was that it gave Apple serious leverage in its battle with Samsung. The South Korean company could be more willing to concede in its future disputes with Apple to avoid additional patent problems in the United States, she said.

The decision is the latest in a string of victories for Apple in its patent disputes with Samsung. Last 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 products, a request that was previously denied. The court has not yet released a decision.

Apple and Samsung, which together make all the profits in the handset industry and dominate worldwide smartphone sales, 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 trade commission, Apple accused Samsung of violating four patents, including a design patent for the general look of an iPhone - a rectangle with rounded corners - and a utility patent for a method to detect when headphones are plugged into a device.

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

Samsung could carry out workarounds to the design of its hardware and software to circumvent the ban. In a statement expressing 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 company 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 said it was pleased with the outcome.

“With today's decision, the I.T.C. 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. 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.”

The administration said it vetoed the commission's ban on Apple products because the patents involved were so-called standards-essential patents, which cover basic technologies that companies need to use in their products to comply with industry standards. In this case, the standard involved wireless communications for mobile devices.

Friday's order to ban Samsung's products do not involve standards-essential patents. But 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.