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EU investigating Samsung's 3G patent licensing practices

January 31, 2012 |  6:07 pm

Samsung at CES 2012

Samsung's patent lawsuits with Apple and other rivals are bringing the South Korean tech giant a bit of regulatory scrutiny in the European Union.

On Tuesday, the European Commission, the E.U.'s antitrust agency, said it had formally launched an investigation into whether Samsung had broken any competition laws by not allowing rivals to fairly license patents relating to 3G technology.

"The European Commission has opened a formal investigation to assess whether Samsung Electronics has abusively, and in contravention of a commitment it gave to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), used certain of its standard essential patent rights to distort competition in European mobile device markets, in breach of EU antitrust rules," the commission said in a statement. "The opening of proceedings means that the Commission will examine the case as a matter of priority. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation."

Central to the investigation is determining whether Samsung has lived up to a pledge the company made 14 years ago to license patents it owned that are "essential" to 3G technology in mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

"In 2011, Samsung sought injunctive relief in various Member States' courts against competing mobile device makers based on alleged infringements of certain of its patent rights which it has declared essential to implement European mobile telephony standards," the E.U. agency said. "The Commission will investigate, in particular, whether in doing so Samsung has failed to honour its irrevocable commitment given in 1998 to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to license any standard essential patents relating to European mobile telephony standards on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. The Commission will examine whether such behaviour amounts to an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU)."

Samsung officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday on the commission's investigation, but the agency said it would work to "guarantee undistorted competition and to reap the positive economic effects of standardisation" of technologies such as 3G wireless connectivity. "It is important that FRAND commitments be fully honoured by the concerned undertakings," the commission said.


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

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Photo: A Samsung Electronics representative talks about Samsung products at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 13, 2012. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg