WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States took the rare step on Saturday of vetoing a trade panel's decision to ban the sale of some Apple products, dealing a blow to the California giant's South Korean rival Samsung.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman announced the move against the US International Trade Commission in a letter, saying he decided to "disapprove" the exclusion order.
It is the first time since 1987 that a US administration had vetoed a product ban ordered by the commission and comes amid a bitter legal battle between Apple and competitor Samsung.
On June 4, the commission said it issued a "limited exclusion order" for certain devices made by Apple, in a victory for the South Korean firm after a huge loss in a court fight with its US rival last year.
The ban covers devices that are no longer actively sold in the US market - the AT&T iPhone 4 and iPhone 3 and 3GS, as well as the iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G, also sold by AT&T.
After extensive consultations, "I have decided to disapprove the USITC's determination to issue an exclusion order and cease and desist order in this investigation," Mr Froman wrote in the letter, addressed to USITC chairman Irving Williamson.
"This decision is based on my review of the various policy considerations discussed above as they relate to the effect on competitive conditions in the US economy and the effect on US consumers." Apple welcomed the move while Samsung slammed it.
"We applaud the administration for standing up for innovation in this landmark case," said Apple spokesman Kristin Huguet.
"Samsung was wrong to abuse the patent system in this way." Samsung, the world's largest technology firm by revenue, countered by saying it was "disappointed."
"The ITC's decision correctly recognised that Samsung has been negotiating in good faith and that Apple remains unwilling to take a license," it said in a statement.
The case was filed in August 2011 amid a flurry of litigation between the two rivals over patents in the hot market for tablets and smartphones.
In a separate patent battle in US federal court, Samsung was ordered last August to pay more than US$1 billion (S$1.27 billion) for patent infringement, which also opens the door to a ban on some Samsung devices.
A judge later slashed the award to US$598.9 million.
Surveys out late last month showed that Apple's iPhone has been squeezed by competition from Samsung and other Asian manufacturers.
Apple's share of the global smartphone market fell to 13.1 per cent in the April-June period, according to research firm IDC. A separate report by Strategy Analytics gave Apple 13.6 per cent, but noted that it was the US firm's lowest share since 2010.