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Samsung Patent Victory Could Lead to iPhone 4 Ban in US

Samsung has won a surprise victory in a patent battle with Apple that could see the iPhone 4 and 3G-capable iPad 2 banned from sale in the US.

The decision – over a patent deemed essential to conform with the 3G standards, which Samsung has pledged to license freely – will be appealed against by Apple, which said that it will have “no impact” on the availability of its products in the U.S.

The final judgment by the International Trade Commission, which only adjudicates on requests for import bans to the US, will intensify debate over the U.S. patent system, which is seen as hobbling competition in some fields. It came just hours after President Obama pledged to shake up the country’s patent litigation system, with reform of the ITC among its objectives.

The ITC decided that the provision of 3G mobile data links in the iPhone 4, released in 2010, and 3G-capable iPad 2, infringed US patent 7,706,348. It rejected Apple’s contention that Samsung had failed to license the patent on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) terms, as is required for standards-essential patents (SEPs). The iPhone 5 and 4S, and iPads released in 2012, are unaffected by the decision.

Apple and Samsung have been fighting a war of attrition through the various patent courts in the U.S. and around the world in which they have sought to ban and otherwise limit sales of each other’s products in Europe, the U.S., Australia and Asia. The ITC decision is the most significant win for Samsung in the U.S. after a series of losses and indeterminate rulings here.

The decision to allow Samsung’s request for a ban is controversial, because the FTC in January demanded a consent order from Google in which it would pledge that its Motorola subsidiary would not seek sales bans against “willing licensees” of SEPs.

It will also focus attention on the ITC, which has been used by a number of companies including Apple, Samsung, HTC, Nokia and others to seek import bans over alleged patent infringement against rivals in the hugely valuable smartphone business. On Tuesday, Obama announced plans to overhaul many of the U.S. patent litigation systems, including “change the ITC standard for obtaining an injunction to better align it” with the tests applied in U.S. federal courts. Those effectively preclude sales bans over SEPs on willing licensees…

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