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EU Launches Investigation Into Samsung Patent Claims

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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The European Union is to investigate claims that Samsung is abusing its position as owner of patents for essential 3G technology

The European Union (EU) is to launch an investigation to ascertain whether Samsung is illegally attempting to hinder its competitors through its patents.

Samsung may not be the only manufacturer implicated, with commentators warning that Apple and Motorola could be targeted for not granting other companies fair access to its patents.

Honour your commitments

The EU’s antitrust watchdog raised concerns that the Korean manufacturer may not be honouring a commitment made in 1998, to grant access to its standardised 3G technology. Samsung had agreed to “license any standard essential patents relating to European mobile telephony standards on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.”

The EU 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.”

However, the EU was adamant that the probe was a result of its own findings rather than from complaints made by Samsung’s competitors.

Everyone is in danger

Samsung had so far failed in its attempts to prove that other companies have violated a number of its 3G-essential patents, but analyst Florian Mueller warned “the European Commission can’t wait until Samsung finally wins a ruling based on such a patent and enforces it, potentially causing irreparable harm.”

“Even though Samsung is at this stage the only company to be investigated over this issue, other suspected abusers could face similar inquiries anytime,” he added. “And everyone else who may intend to seek or enforce injunctions based on FRAND-pledged standards-essential patents in Europe will now have to proceed with extra caution.”

The news comes the same day as a court in Dusseldorf declined to overturn a ban on the sale of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany and forms part of a wider worldwide legal battle between Apple and Samsung.

Last week a Dutch court rejected Apple’s claim that the Samsung Galaxy Tab infringed its patents, while a US District Court has refused to grant the company an injunction against Samsung’s smartphones and tablets. For its part, Samsung has failed to get the Apple iPhone 4S banned in France and Italy.