Apple has won a patent-infringement case brought by Google's Motorola Mobility subsidiary over a phone sensor, averting a court order that could have hindered imports of the iPhone 4 into the United States.
The International Trade Commission upheld a judge's findings that the Motorola Mobility patent was invalid, although it gave different reasons. The patent covers a sensor that prevents the phone from accidentally hanging up or activating an application when close to a person's face.
The decision marks the latest instance in which neither Apple nor Google has been able to strike a decisive blow against its competitor, in a squabble that began more than two years ago.
Each has claimed the other was infringing patents, and Apple accused Motorola Mobility of breaching obligations to license some of its most widely used technology on fair terms.
Rodney Sweetland, a patent lawyer with Duane Morris who specialises in ITC cases, said: "This is not a surprise because the commission has heretofore not found a violation by Apple in any case as to any claim in any patent. The commission is particularly attentive to the details in cases involving Apple, which implicate such a popular product and such an important part of commerce."
Google said it was disappointed and was evaluating its options. Apple said the company had no comment.
The iPhone generated US$78.7 billion in sales in the past fiscal year for Apple, about half of its revenue.
Apple is scheduled to report earnings today. Analysts have predicted that the company will post its first profit decline since 2003, hurt by products with lower profit margins and by slower iPhone sales growth.