The US International Trade Commission will investigate the patent claims made against Apple by Elan Microelectronics, which claims that the iPhone maker's products infringe on its touchscreen technology.
Elan has said that Apple's iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, MacBook and Magic Mouse violate its patent No. 5,825,352, which covers "touch-sensitive input devices with the ability to detect the simultaneous presence of two or more fingers". The Taiwanese company launched a patent against Apple last month over its claims, and it has separately asked the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to forbid Apple from importing all five devices into the US.
The ITC agreed on Monday that the complaint warrants an investigation, but said in a statement that it "has not yet made any decision on the merits of the case".
An ITC administrative law judge will begin by scheduling and holding an evidentiary hearing and will make an initial determination as to whether there is a violation of section 337 of the US's Tariff Act of 1930, as alleged by Elan, the commission said. That decision will be subject to review by the ITC.
The body did not indicate a time frame for its first moves in the matter, but said it will make a final determination in the investigation "at the earliest practicable time".
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement last month, Elan said it is seeking to enforce its patent because it is "a fundamental patent to the detection of multi-fingers that allows for any subsequent multi-finger applications to be implemented".
In 2008, Elan sued Synaptics in US District Court over the same patent, and several Synaptics touch-sensitive products were found to be in violation of the patent. In the end, the two companies agreed on a licensing deal.
For its part, Apple last month filed suit against HTC and lodged a complaint with the ITC over 20 patents related to the iPhone's graphical interface and software.