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(3rd LD) Obama gov't overturns ban on sales of Apple products

By Lee Chi-dong, Kang Yoon-seung

WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Aug. 4 (Yonhap) -- The Barack Obama administration on Saturday overruled a ban on the sale of some of Apple Inc.'s products, upsetting its South Korean rival Samsung Electronics Co.

The U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman announced that he has decided to veto the ban imposed in June by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), an independent federal agency.

"After extensive consultations with the agencies of the Trade Policy Staff Committee and the Trade Policy Review Group, as well as other interested agencies and persons, I have decided to disapprove the ITC's determination to issue an exclusion order, and cease and desist order in the investigation," he said in a letter to Irving Williamson, the head of the ITC.

It is based on a review of the "effect on competitive conditions in the U.S. economy and the effect on U.S. consumers," he added.

The decision came after the ITC said earlier in June that Apple infringed on some of Samsung Electronics's patents in making smartphones and tablet computers.

The ICT issued an order prohibiting Apple, based in California, from importing wireless communication devices, portable music and data processing devices, and tablet computers, affecting the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G made in China.

June's ruling came after nearly two years of investigation since Samsung filed a complaint with the agency in 2011.

Samsung expressed disappointment over the decision, while Apple welcomed it, saying it is the right one for innovation.

Samsung said in an official statement it feels "regretful" that the ITC's ruling, which stipulated Apple violated the firms' copyrights and failed to negotiate in a sincere manner, wasn't accepted.

Market watchers said the U.S. Trade Representative's decision was based on the so-called Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) standard, which was introduced to prevent patent owners from abusing power.

The FRAND license standard also prevents holders of patents from denying market access to latecomers.

It is the first time that the USTR has vetoed a ruling by the ITC in 25 years. The ITC is an independent federal agency -- working with the Department of Commerce -- that determines the impact of imports on U.S. industries and directs actions against unfair trade practices such as subsidies, dumping, and infringements of patents, trademarks and copyrights.

The ITC, meanwhile, plans to announce its final ruling on Apple's patent claim against Samsung later on Aug. 9.

The upcoming reviews will decide whether to uphold a preliminary ruling by the ITC that stated Samsung's older mobile devices, including Galaxy S2 models, infringed on four patents held by Apple.

Market watchers said Samsung may not benefit from the FRAND license standard concerning the dispute, as Apple also claim that the South Korean tech giant infringed on its design.

Following the ITC's ruling, U.S. President Barack Obama must decide whether to veto the verdict within 60 days.

In August 2012, Samsung suffered a defeat in a courtroom war against Apple, casting dark clouds over its booming sales of smartphones and tablet computers in the U.S. market.

Samsung had infringed on several of Apple's patents for mobile devices and needed to pay US$1.05 billion in damages, a nine-member jury at the District Court for the Northern District of California said last year.

lcd@yna.co.kr, colin@yna.co.kr

(END)

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