WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Trade Representative's office said on Tuesday it would allow a U.S. ban to go into effect at midnight on importing or selling mobile devices made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd that infringe on Apple Inc patents.
The decision is the latest step in a patent battle between the two companies that has spread across several countries as Apple and Samsung vie for market share in the lucrative mobile industry. Samsung and Apple are the No. 1 and No. 2 smartphone makers globally, respectively.
The U.S. International Trade Commission said on August 9 that some older smartphones and tablets made by South Korea's Samsung infringed on Apple patents. It banned the importation or sale of the devices.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman could have overturned the ban - as he did on August 3 in a case where Apple was found to have infringed on a Samsung patent - but did not.
"After carefully weighing policy considerations, including the impact on consumers and competition, advice from agencies, and information from interested parties, I have decided to allow the commission's determination," Froman said in a statement.
Apple had filed a complaint in mid-2011, accusing Samsung of infringing its patents in making a wide range of smartphones and tablets.
The ITC ruled that the Samsung devices infringed on portions of two Apple patents on digital mobile devices, related to the detection of headphone jacks and the operation of touchscreens.
Samsung has said its newer models incorporate features that work around disputed technology, and that those changes have been approved by the ITC.
In the August case, when the USTR overturned a proposed ban on some older-model Apple iPhones and iPads, the patents covered were standard essential patents, while the patents covered by Tuesday's decision were not.
Standard essential patents are central to the products at issue and are supposed to be licensed broadly and inexpensively. U.S. antitrust authorities have argued that infringing on them should trigger requirements for license payments but not import or sales bans.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Ros Krasny, Gerald E. McCormick and Prudence Crowther)