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(3rd LD) U.S. trade panel bans imports of some Samsung products

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. trade panel ruled Friday that Samsung Electronics Co. infringed on two of Apple Inc.'s patents in making some smartphones and tablet PCs, largely older models.

In its final ruling, the International Trade Commission (ITC) placed a ban on the imports of those devices manufactured by the South Korean firm, accepting Apple's complaints filed in 2012.

"The U.S. International Trade Commission has found a violation of section 337 in this investigation and has issued a limited exclusion order" prohibiting Samsung from importing certain electronic digital media devices, announced Lisa R. Barton, acting secretary to the commission.

It is subject to a 60-day presidential review period and it will take effect if approved by the Obama administration.

The ITC's decision represents yet another home-turf victory, albeit partial, for the Silicon Valley-based firm in its years-long patent war.

In a preliminary decision in October, an administrative law judge at the ITC found Samsung had violated four valid Apple patents -- one design patent and three technical patents.

But the ITC's highest-level decision-making body concluded that Samsung infringed on only two of them, related to touch screens and headset technology.

It disagreed with an early judgment that Samsung violated two more Apple patents -- a design patent and a translucent images patent.

Most market watchers agree that an import ban on Samsung's gadgets would not seriously hurt its revenues as U.S. sales of its older models under the ITC's review are minimal.

Some industry watchers cautiously forecast that the Obama administration would also overrule the case. Otherwise, it will bring about an even larger international trade conflict, according to them.

But many others say the Obama government may accept the ITC's ruling, because the case centers on some of Apple's commercial patents, not standard-essential patents.

Samsung's products known to violate Apple's patents include the Galaxy S 4G, the Galaxy Tab and the Galaxy Tab 10.1, as well as a handful of other smartphones and tablets released in 2010 and 2011.

The rival companies are engaged in legal disputes in about 10 countries.

Apple narrowly escaped a sales ban on its iPhone 4 and iPad 2 last week, when President Barack Obama's trade representative, Michael Froman, vetoed an ITC ruling issued in June.

This decision was the first time that the U.S. government has vetoed a ruling by the ITC in 25 years.

On June 4 of this year, ITC ruled that Apple infringed upon one of Samsung's standard-essential patents, putting a ban on older Apple devices such as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G.

The ITC is an independent and quasi-judicial body that determines the impact of imports on U.S. industries and directs actions against unfair trade practices.

Samsung voiced disappointment with the ITC's latest ruling and stressed the importance of fair competition in global markets.

"We are disappointed that the ITC has issued an exclusion order based on two of Apple's patents," the company said in a statement. "However, Apple has been stopped from trying to use its overbroad design patents to achieve a monopoly on rectangles and rounded corners."

   "The proper focus for the smartphone industry is not a global war in the courts, but fair competition in the marketplace," it added. "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."