EU opens antitrust probe into Samsung

Samsung is being formally investigated by the European Commission over licensing deals it made with rival manufacturers for the use of patents essential to mobile telephony standards
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

The European Commission is investigating Samsung over patent licensing deals relating to European mobile standards.

The EC opened the formal investigation into deals made by Samsung to see whether the company had fairly licensed essential European mobile-related standards patents to competitors.

"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 EC said in a statement.

Standardisation agreements such as those made through ETSI require owners of patents that are essential to implementation to agree to license them on FRAND terms, encouraging acceptance of the standards across a broad range of company types and sizes and discouraging discriminatory use of the standards by patent holders for competitive advantage.

The formal scrutiny follows a preliminary investigation carried out in November 2011 but is not the result of a complaint from any specific company.

"We received no formal complaint. We are initiating proceedings today so of course no conclusions have been reached," an EC spokeswoman told ZDNet UK. "We will now investigate to check whether FRAND commitments and EU competition law have been breached."

However, software patent expert Florian Mueller considers full-blown proceedings a potential bad omen for Samsung.

"It goes without saying that Samsung is innocent until proven guilty of abuse. But the launch of a full-blown investigation after a few months of preliminary investigations is an important step," Mueller said in a blog post. "This means European competition enforcers have received information, in response to questionnaires — sent to Apple, which may have informally complained, and Samsung — that warrant a more formal effort."

The investigation will run alongside a long-standing patent battle between Apple and Samsung over alleged patent infringements between the two companies, including disputes over 3G standards-related patents.

"Samsung Electronics has not received any formal notice and is unable to discuss the matter at this time," a spokeswoman for the company told ZDNet UK in a statement.

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