European antitrust regulators: Global patent battle could be 'used as tool for abuse'

Summary:Europe's antitrust chief warns that the global dispute between technology companies over mobile phone patents could be "used as a tool of abuse"

European regulators investigating both Apple and Samsung over their ongoing patent dispute are worried that intellectual property rights could be used as weaponry by companies, in order to subdue their rivals or limit innovation, Europe's antitrust chief said today.

The European Commission earlier this month asked both Apple and Samsung for additional details on the disputed patents, used as standards in the cellular industry.

Both companies are locked in a bitter patent battle which began in April, that has since spread to over 10 countries.

Speaking to reporters, Europe's Competition Commissioner said: "We requested information from both Apple and Samsung. We have not yet received the answers. We need to look at this because intellectual property rights can be used as a distortion of competition but we will need to look at the answers".

"In the IT sector, it is obvious it is not the only case. Apple and Samsung is only one case where intellectual property  rights can be used as an instrument to restrict competition", he said, adding that both standardisation and intellectual property rights are two instruments that can be "used as a tool of abuse".

It is thought that companies could gain advantage over others, particularly direct rivals or competitors, if sales bans are granted in courts, previously seen in Germany and Australia where Apple secured injunctions against the sale of Samsung's Galaxy Tab products.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab is thought to be the greatest competitor to Apple's iPad. The tablet recently underwent a design face-lift in a bid to appease Apple's lawyers, after Samsung's tablet was blocked for sale in October. A U.S. district judge said only last month that Apple's patents were infringed upon by Samsung, after Samsung's lawyers struggled to determine which tablets were which, when held up by the judge.

But Apple has not been completely on the winning-stick of the patent war, after a regional court in Germany temporarily banned U.S. based Apple Inc. from marketing or supplying its iPhone or iPad in the country, following a suit brought by Motorola.

If European antitrust rules are broken, companies can be fined up to 10 percent of their global turnover, which could end up in tens of millions of Euros, the region's single currency.

Related:

Topics: Apple, Enterprise Software, Government, Government : US, Hardware, Legal, Mobility, Samsung, Smartphones

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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