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Trade complaint targets iPhone, laptop flash storage

The U.S. International Trade Commission will investigate flash storage chips used by Apple, Research In Motion, Dell, Asus, Sony, Lenovo and other vendors after a company claiming five patents on flash technology sought to ban the importation of the chips and devices that use them.

BTG International went to the ITC on July 27 after filing a suit against the manufacturers on July 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. RIM was added later in an amended complaint. BTG sued Samsung, which made the chips, in the same court in December.

BTG alleges that some Samsung chips violate its patents on multilevel NAND flash memory. The chips have been used in a range of products including the first-generation iPhone 8GB, MacBook Air, Asus Eee PC netbook, Lenovo ThinkPad X301, Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-T2 camera and flash cards and storage devices, according to the suit.

NAND flash is at the heart of most handheld electronic devices and increasingly being used in laptops in the form of SSDs (solid-state disks). Samsung is one of the world's largest flash memory makers.

BTG International, based in Conshohocken, Pa., is a licensing company that holds title to a variety of patents on inventions by Gerald Banks, according to attorney T. Gordon White of McKool Smith P.C., which is representing the company. BTG's parent company is BTG International, a pharmaceutical company based in London.

The ITC's chief administrative law judge will assign the case to one of the agency's six administrative law judges, who will hold an evidentiary hearing. Within 14 days of initiating its probe, the ITC will set a target date for completing it, according to the agency's statement.

Other products named in the suit include the third-generation iPod Shuffle 4GB and second-generation iPod Touch 16GB. The Dell D630 and Sony Vaio VGN-TT190 laptops are named in addition to the Lenovo X301. All the named laptops have 128GB Samsung SSDs. A flash memory card and a USB drive from PNY, and an SSD and SD memory card from Transcend are also identified, along with some Sony storage devices.

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