The Obama administration has vetoed a federal commission’s ban that would have forced Apple to stop selling some iPhones and iPads in the United States next week, a rare intervention by the White House and a victory for Apple in its heated patent war with Samsung Electronics.
The United States International Trade Commission in June ordered a ban of older-model Apple products that worked with AT&T’s network, including the iPhone 4 and 3GS, after determining that Apple had violated a patent that Samsung owned related to transmission of data over cellular networks. The administration had until Monday to weigh in.
It was the first time that an administration has vetoed an International Trade Commission ban since 1987, according to Susan Kohn Ross, an international trade lawyer for Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.
Michael Froman, the United States trade representative and the president’s adviser on international trade issues, wrote in his decision issued on Saturday that it was based in part on the “effect on competitive conditions in the U.S. economy and the effect on U.S. consumers.”
Apple argued that Samsung had committed to licensing its patents related to wireless technology standards, but was refusing to keep that promise. Samsung said Apple refused to pay licensing fees for its patents.
Samsung said Saturday that it was disappointed, adding, “The I.T.C.’s decision correctly recognized that Samsung has been negotiating in good faith and that Apple remains unwilling to take a license.”
Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman, said, “We applaud the administration for standing up for innovation in this landmark case.” She added, “Samsung was wrong to abuse the patent system in this way.”
Mr. Froman said his decision did not mean that Samsung was “not entitled to a remedy. On the contrary, the patent owner may continue to pursue its rights through the courts.”
Samsung and Apple were once tight partners — the South Korean company makes some key parts needed to produce iPhones and iPads. But over time, as they made products that competed in different markets, their friendship turned into rivalry.
The companies, which together rake in all of the profits in the handset industry, have been using patents as weapons to fight each other in the United States and other countries. Last year, a California jury awarded Apple $1 billion in damages after deciding that Samsung had violated the American company’s mobile patents, though the amount was reduced to $599 million.
The clash between the global electronics giants resumes at the trade commission next week in another patent dispute. In that case, Apple claimed Samsung had violated one design patent and three technical patents. The commission expects to issue a decision by Friday.
Ms. Ross, the trade lawyer, said the administration’s veto announced on Saturday will effectively remove a major bargaining chip for Samsung that could have disrupted Apple’s manufacturing facilities for making iPhones and iPads.
Analysts previously said this ban would be trivial to Apple’s bottom line, because Apple is about to refresh its iPhones and iPads for the holiday season, and the older models, like the iPhone 4, were going to be less popular.
Apple had support in opposing the commission’s ban. Randal Milch, the general counsel of Verizon Communications, which was not involved in the exclusion order, wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal urging the administration to veto the ban. Microsoft, Oracle and Intel also publicly supported Apple.
Administration officials said Mr. Froman’s decision was made without involvement by Mr. Obama or his senior aides in the White House. A 2005 executive order signed by President George W. Bush delegates the authority to act in cases like this to the United States trade representative, officials said.
The president’s administration is aggressively pursuing trade deals with Europe and with Pacific Rim nations. But Mr. Obama has also pushed to be more aggressive in protecting the rights of American companies.
In its statement of trade policy last February, the administration said the president had “elevated trade enforcement on par with market-opening efforts” as a way of helping to level the playing field for American companies.