(Bloomberg ) Samsung Electronics Co. (005930), the world's largest smartphone producer, persuaded a U.S. trade agency to review a preliminary ruling that more than a dozen models of its mobile phones infringe Apple Inc. (AAPL) patents.
The U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington said today that it would review the findings, and ordered a judge to address specific issues on two of the four patents found to be infringed. ITC Judge Thomas Pender in October recommended the agency order an import ban on Samsung products found to violate Apple's patent rights.
The case is one of dozens in which the world's two largest smartphone makers are using their patents to try to force the other into changing its products or removing some models from store shelves. They are fighting to increase share of a mobile device market that researcher Yankee Group expects to double to $847 billion by 2016.
Apple has generally been more successful in its litigation in the U.S., including a $1 billion jury verdict it won in August that Samsung is trying to overturn. Samsung has filed regulatory challenges to some of Apple's designs in Europe to keep German cases on hold, and won a ruling in the U.K. that it didn't infringe an Apple design patent.
Pender in October said Samsung infringed a design patent for the flat front face with wider borders at the top and bottom and a lozenge-shaped speaker slot above the display screen. Apple's design chief, Jonathan Ive, and its late co-founder, Steve Jobs, were among the inventors.
Also found to be infringed were a feature patent for a multitouch screen that lists Jobs and Apple's former iOS software chief, Scott Forstall, among the inventors; one that covers the translucent images for applications displayed on a screen; and one for a way to detect when headphone jacks are plugged in. There was no violation of two other patents, he said.
While the commission said it was reviewing the decision "in its entirety," it told the judge to issue additional findings regarding infringement of two of the patents. A final decision in the case was scheduled for March 27; Pender will have to set a new deadline.
Pender also found that Samsung in some instances had designed devices to avoid infringing the patents, a finding Apple challenged. Any exclusion order would have to be reviewed by President Barack Obama on public policy grounds, and the underlying patent case would be heard by an appeals court that specializes in patent law. Presidents rarely overrule the ITC on import bans in these types of cases.
Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman, said the company had no comment. Adam Yates, a spokesman for Samsung, didn't immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.
Samsung, which denies infringing any of the Apple patents, said that its products shouldn't be shut out of the U.S. market. In a Dec. 3 filing with the agency, Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung said such an order would "create a void in the marketplace, harming consumers and wireless carriers."
The company lost the first round in its own ITC patent- infringement case against Apple when a trade judge said there was no violation. The full commission is reviewing that case and is scheduled to issue a final decision March 7.
The companies make about half of the world's smartphones, and Samsung is the biggest competitor to Apple in sales of tablet computers. It's also the biggest supplier of components to Cupertino, California-based Apple.
Apple said that it sold 47.8 million iPhones and 22.9 million iPads in the quarter ended Dec. 29. The iPhone 5 went on sale in September.
Samsung, in a preliminary statement of results on Jan. 8, reported an 89 percent jump in profit in the three months ended in December, boosted by its Galaxy line of smartphones. Samsung sold about 62 million smartphones in the quarter, according to a Daewoo Securities Co. estimate.
Google Inc., (GOOG) which makes the Android operating system that runs the Samsung phones and tablets at the center of the dispute, also urged the ITC not to block Samsung products even if it does find a violation.
"To justify this extraordinary remedy, which would harm consumers and sellers alike in one of this country's most critical and fastest-growing industries, Apple asserts patents that cover only small aspects of the feature-packed Android platform and that do not drive consumer demand," Google said in a Dec. 3 filing.
The Apple case against Samsung is In the Matter of Electronic Digital Media Devices, 337-796, and Samsung's case is In the Matter of Electronic Devices, Including Wireless Communication Devices, Portable Music and Data Processing Devices, and Tablet Computers, 337-794, both U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).