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Obama overrules Apple import ban

Barack Obama's trade representative has vetoed an import ban on some Apple iPads and older iPhones, in a setback to rival South Korean electronics company Samsung.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman overruled a June decision by the US International Trade Commission, which had banned imports of the iPhone 4 and some variations of the iPad 2.

The commission ruled that the Chinese-made Apple devices violated a patent held by Samsung and could not be imported. But the ban never went into effect, because the Obama administration had 60 days to decide if it would uphold the commission.

President Obama is against import bans on the basis of the type of patent at issue in the Samsung case. The White House has recommended that Congress limit the ITC's ability to impose import bans in these cases.

Samsung and Apple are in a global legal battle over smartphones. Apple argues Samsung's Android phones copy vital iPhone features and Samsung is fighting back with its own complaints.

Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said the company applauded the administration "for standing up for innovation". A message seeking comment from Samsung was not returned.

In a letter to the commission Mr Froman said he had concerns about patent holders having too much leverage over competitors that use their technology under licences.

Companies license patented technology to competitors so the devices can communicate as part of an industry standard for mobile phones. Under the "standards-essential patent" legal theory prevailing in US courts, holders of such patents are obligated to license them to all-comers on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms.

US courts have ruled that such patents cannot be the basis for import bans. The International Trade Commission follows a different standard than the courts, but the Obama administration wants it to follow the same principles.

Mr Froman wrote that he shared the Obama administration's concerns that the holders of standards-essential patents could get "undue leverage" over their competitors.

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