updated 10/6/2009 4:08:20 PM ET 2009-10-06T20:08:20

U.S. trade officials said they will launch an investigation into whether Toyota Motor Corp. violated patents held by a U.S. hybrid technology company.

The company, Bonita Springs, Florida-based Paice LLC, claims that popular Toyota hybrids like the third-generation Prius and the Lexus HS250h contain technology that violate its patents related to the propulsion of gas-electric vehicles.

Paice is seeking to bar the import of the vehicles into the U.S. The U.S. International Trade Commission, which investigates claims of trade violations, voted to launch the probe on Monday.

After the ITC decides to begin an investigation, a judge is named usually within 45 days and hearings are held, an ITC spokeswoman said. If the ITC sides with Paice, the trade body could issue penalties including a possible ban on the hybrids' import.

A spokesman for the Japanese automaker said the company's position remains unchanged from last month, when it issued a statement saying it "has many patents on the hybrid technology and believes that it has strong defenses against all of Paice's claims and that it will prevail in the ITC proceeding."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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