US trade body investigates seven smartphone companies

The investigation follows a patent infringement allegation by Creative Technology

A U.S. trade body has launched an investigation into seven smartphone companies on charges of patent infringement, which could lead to a ban on the sale of certain phones imported and sold by these vendors in the country.

The U.S. International Trade Commission said it had instituted an investigation into devices from a group of mainly Asian companies, including Lenovo and its Motorola subsidiary, Samsung Electronics, ZTE, Sony, LG Electronics, HTC and BlackBerry.

The complaint was filed against these companies by Creative Technology of Singapore and its U.S. subsidiary Creative Labs of Milpitas, California, on March 24.

Known for its Sound Blaster sound cards for PC audio, Creative has charged these companies with infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,928,433 entitled “Automatic Hierarchical Categorization of Music by Metadata,” which claims various methods for accessing different types of data, such as music or video files, on a portable media player.

Apple is said to be one of the licensees of the patent, and in 2006, Apple paid Creative US$100 million for a nonexclusive license, according to Creative’s complaint. Creative had earlier that year asked the ITC to block the sale of Apple's iPod devices for allegedly infringing the same patent.

Among the alleged infringing products named in the complaint are Samsung’s Galaxy S6 smartphone and other Samsung phones containing either the Google Play Music app (version 5.9.l854R.l904527), or the Samsung Music app (version 6.0.1508051449), which were installed on the phones prior to import.

The products at issue in the investigation are smartphones, “with the capability of playing stored media files selected by a user from a hierarchical display,” the ITC said in a statement Thursday.

If it finds infringement after investigation, the ITC can place a ban on the sale of products by these vendors, under a limited exclusion order requested by the complainant. The ITC cautioned that the launch of an investigation did not imply a decision on the merits of the case. It will set a target date for completion of the investigation within 45 days of its institution.

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