Taiwan's HTC Corp lost a patent infringement complaint filed against Apple Inc in a preliminary decision at the U.S. International Trade Commission on Monday.
An ITC administrative law judge found "no violation" by Apple of four HTC patents that include technologies for power management and phone dialing.
In February, the full commission will decide whether to uphold or reject the ITC judge's decision.
HTC had filed a complaint in May 2010, accusing Apple of infringing its patents. It asked the ITC to bar the importation of Apple's iPods, iPhones and iPads.
The complaint -- one of several the two companies have filed against each other -- is a proxy for the larger fight for market share between Google Inc's Android cell phones and tablets, many of which HTC makes, and Apple's product line.
Apple and Samsung, which also makes Android products, are locked in similar court fights on at least three continents.
The ITC, a U.S. trade panel that investigates patent infringement involving imported goods, is a popular venue for patent lawsuits because it can bar the importation of infringing products.
The administrative law judge, Charles Bullock, also said in his ruling that that the four HTC patents were valid.
The complaint at the International Trade Commission is No. 337-721.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)