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EU snaps on glove, starts formal antitrust probe of Samsung

Korean firm may be abusing 3G standards with Apple lawsuits

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The European Union has formally started an antitrust investigation of Samsung over its use of standards-related 3G patents in its patent battles around the world.

The Korean firm has brought lawsuits against Apple in a number of European countries, alleging patent infringement of 3G intellectual property it holds. However, 3G patents are usually standards-related, which means that companies holding them have to issue them to other firms on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

As part of establishing the 3G standard, Samsung entered into an agreement with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to license its 3G patents.

"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 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 canned statement.

Samsung has been trying its hand with 3G patent infringement suits in Europe, but hasn't had much luck so far. The mobile-maker tried to get iPhone 4S bans in France and Italy, which were both denied, and German courts have shot down two of the firm's 3G patent gripes in Germany. The Dutch court also came down on the side of FRAND in Samsung's case against Apple in the Netherlands.

Late last year, the European Commission started to get concerned about Samsung's 3G suits and said it had requested information from both Apple and Samsung on the issue.

"Standardisation and IP rights are two instruments that in this new IT sector can be used as a tool to abuse," EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in November.

A Samsung spokesperson told El Reg: “Samsung Electronics has not received any formal notice and is unable to discuss the matter at this time.” ®

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