US agency launches two flash memory patent investigations

Samsung Electronics files a complaint and is a target in a second complaint

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has voted to investigate technology-related patent complaints brought by two companies, with the vendors asking the agency to ban the import of a wide range of products using flash memory.

In one case, Samsung Electronics of South Korea filed a complaint, and in the second, Samsung is among the targets in the investigation. The two cases involve different types of flash memory.

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A Samsung representative didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the two cases.

In one investigation, Samsung Electronics filed a complaint July 31, alleging that 12 companies, including subsidiaries, have infringed its patents for flash memory chips used in GPS devices, routers, and network storage products. Among the companies targeted in the investigation are Spansion, D-Link, and Synology. The ITC announced the investigation Friday.

Spansion filed its own flash memory patent complaint in 2008, and Samsung Electronics was one of the targets of its complaint.

In the second investigation, BTG International, based in Pennsylvania, filed a complaint on July 27. BTG alleged that 16 companies and subsidiaries, including Samsung Electronics, Apple, Dell, Asustek Computer, Sony, and Research in Motion, have infringed its five patents on MLC (multilevel cell) flash memory. MLC flash memory is used in a variety of consumer products, including laptop computers, mobile phones, and MP3 players.

The ITC announced the investigation earlier this week.

The complaints allege violations of section 337 of the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, which excludes foreign suppliers from importing products into the U.S. market if their products infringe on the intellectual property rights of U.S. manufacturers. Section 337 complaints have become a popular way for tech vendors and other companies to assert patent rights, but many investigations do not result in products being banned from import.

Investigations can take many months to complete.

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