By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Some older Samsung ElectronicsCo smartphones and tablets could be taken off storeshelves in the United States after the U.S. Trade Representativeopted not to reverse a ban ordered because the devices infringeApple Inc patents.
The decision is the latest step in a patent battle acrossseveral countries as Apple and Samsung vie for market share inthe lucrative mobile industry. Samsung and Apple are the No. 1and No. 2 smartphone makers globally, respectively.
Neither the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), whichmade the patent ruling, nor the U.S. Customs and BorderProtection, which would enforce the ban, has spelled out whichof Samsung's many devices will be affected.
Despite the ban, AT&T expected to continue sellingSamsung products. "This decision will not affect our ability toprovide the latest Samsung devices," said Marty Richter, aspokesman for AT&T.
The ITC said on Aug. 9 that some smartphone and tabletmodels 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 tooverturn the ban, as he did in a recent case where Apple wasfound to have infringed on a Samsung patent, but decided not to.
"After carefully weighing policy considerations, includingthe impact on consumers and competition, advice from agencies,and information from interested parties, I have decided to allowthe commission's determination," Froman said in a statement.
A Samsung spokesperson said: "We are disappointed by the USTrade Representative's decision to allow the exclusion orderissued by the US International Trade Commission. It will serveonly to reduce competition and limit choice for the Americanconsumer."
Apple filed a complaint in mid-2011, accusing Samsung ofinfringing its patents in making a wide range of smartphones andtablets.
The ITC ruled that the Samsung devices infringed on portionsof two Apple patents on digital mobile devices, related to thedetection of headphone jacks and the operation of touchscreens.
Samsung has said its newer models incorporate features thatwork around disputed technology, and that those changes havebeen approved by the ITC.
When the ITC issues exclusion orders, they generally do nothave model numbers of devices but are broadly written, saidJamie Underwood, an ITC patent expert with the law firm Alston &Bird, LLP.
Both companies have likely been lobbying aggressively, withApple pushing for a larger number of Samsung models to be bannedand Samsung arguing for fewer, she said.
"It is common to have differences over what is covered by anexclusion order," she said.
Implementation of the ban could also be hampered by thefederal government shutdown, now in its eighth day, althoughmost customs and border protection personnel remain on the job.
In August, the USTR overturned a proposed ban on someolder-model Apple iPhones and iPads which had been found toinfringe Samsung patents. Patents involved were standardessential patents, while the patents covered by Tuesday'sdecision were not.
Standard essential patents are central to the products atissue and are supposed to be licensed broadly and inexpensively.U.S. antitrust authorities have argued that infringing on themshould trigger requirements for license payments but not importor sales bans.
Calls to Customs seeking comment were not immediatelyreturned. Apple declined to comment for this story.
- Consumer Discretionary