Samsung's patent-infringement victory over Apple turned hollow after Barack Obama's administration overturned an order barring shipments of some older iPhone models into the US.
US trade representative Michael Froman, designated by Mr Obama to review the case, on Saturday said a ban on versions of the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 3G was unwarranted, based on his consideration of public-policy issues regarding patents on fundamental technology for mobile devices.
It was the first time the executive branch has overturned an import ban ordered by the US International Trade Commission since 1987, when President Ronald Reagan did so in a case involving Samsung computer-memory chips.
"We applaud the administration for standing up for innovation in this landmark case," Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said in an interview. "Samsung was wrong to abuse the patent system in this way."
Apple had been ordered to stop importing versions of the Chinese-made iPhone 4 and iPad 2 3G designed for networks run by AT&T, T-Mobile US and two regional carriers in Texas and Alaska. Apple was counting on the Obama administration's increased interest in patent disputes to sway the president.
"We are disappointed that the US trade representative has decided to set aside the exclusion order issued by the US International Trade Commission," Nam Ki Yung, a spokesman at Samsung's headquarters in Seoul, said on Sunday in a mobile-phone text message. "The ITC's decision correctly recognized that Samsung has been negotiating a license in good faith and that Apple remains unwilling to take a license."
Apple sold US$78.7 billion worth of iPhones last fiscal year, making up half of the company's revenue. It does not break out sales by model.
It counts on older iPhone models, often given away with a two-year contract, to entice new customers. Sales of older iPhones helped Apple top analysts' earnings projections in the fiscal third quarter.
IPhone 4 models sold for other networks would not have been covered by a ban, nor would newer devices including the iPad mini and iPhone 5. The company is expected to release new iPhone and iPad models later this year.
* Bloomberg News