By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON Oct 8 Some older Samsung Electronics
Co smartphones and tablets could be taken off store
shelves in the United States after the U.S. Trade Representative
opted not to reverse a ban ordered because the devices infringe
Apple Inc patents.
The decision is the latest step in a patent battle across
several countries as Apple and Samsung vie for market share in
the lucrative mobile industry. Samsung and Apple are the No. 1
and No. 2 smartphone makers globally, respectively.
Neither the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), which
made the patent ruling, nor the U.S. Customs and Border
Protection, which would enforce the ban, has spelled out which
of Samsung's many devices will be affected.
Despite the ban, AT&T expected to continue selling
Samsung products. "This decision will not affect our ability to
provide the latest Samsung devices," said Marty Richter, a
spokesman for AT&T.
The ITC said on Aug. 9 that some smartphone and tablet
models made by South Korea's Samsung infringed on Apple patents,
and banned their importation or sale.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman had 60 days to
overturn the ban, as he did in a recent case where Apple was
found to have infringed on a Samsung patent, but decided not to.
"After carefully weighing policy considerations, including
the impact on consumers and competition, advice from agencies,
and information from interested parties, I have decided to allow
the commission's determination," Froman said in a statement.
A Samsung spokesperson said: "We are disappointed by the US
Trade Representative's decision to allow the exclusion order
issued by the US International Trade Commission. It will serve
only to reduce competition and limit choice for the American
Apple filed a complaint in mid-2011, accusing Samsung of
infringing its patents in making a wide range of smartphones and
The ITC ruled that the Samsung devices infringed on portions
of two Apple patents on digital mobile devices, related to the
detection of headphone jacks and the operation of touchscreens.
Samsung has said its newer models incorporate features that
work around disputed technology, and that those changes have
been approved by the ITC.
When the ITC issues exclusion orders, they generally do not
have model numbers of devices but are broadly written, said
Jamie Underwood, an ITC patent expert with the law firm Alston &
Both companies have likely been lobbying aggressively, with
Apple pushing for a larger number of Samsung models to be banned
and Samsung arguing for fewer, she said.
"It is common to have differences over what is covered by an
exclusion order," she said.
Implementation of the ban could also be hampered by the
federal government shutdown, now in its eighth day, although
most customs and border protection personnel remain on the job.
In August, the USTR overturned a proposed ban on some
older-model Apple iPhones and iPads which had been found to
infringe Samsung patents. Patents involved were standard
essential patents, while the patents covered by Tuesday's
decision were not.
Standard essential patents are central to the products at
issue and are supposed to be licensed broadly and inexpensively.
U.S. antitrust authorities have argued that infringing on them
should trigger requirements for license payments but not import
or sales bans.
Calls to Customs seeking comment were not immediately
returned. Apple declined to comment for this story.