Samsung escapes US patent probe for now

The Justice Department has closed down its antitrust investigation into Samsung's tactics against Apple concerning standards-essential patents.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The US Justice Department announced on Friday that it had dropped its investigation into Samsung's use of standards essential patents (SEPs) to seek bans on the sale of Apple products in the US.

Until now, the focus of in DoJ's antitrust investigation was on Samsung's pursuit of US import bans on Apple products based on SEPs. Companies are meant to license SEPs to industry rivals on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

Samsung last year won a exclusion order tied to SEP patents against some iPad and iPhone models at the US International Trade Commission. That ruling was overturned by a US Trade Representative in August, who believed it was not in the public interest to uphold the ban.

One of the Trade Representative's main concerns was over SEP holders "asserting the patent to exclude an implementer of the standard from a market to obtain a higher price for the use of the patent than would have been possible before the standard was set, when alternative technologies would have been chosen".

The Justice Department said that while exclusion orders for SEPs could be an appropriate remedy in some circumstances, in many cases the threat of an exclusion could amount to "exploiting the market power obtained through the standards-setting process".

But, while agreeing that Samsung's use of SEPs may have been anti-competitive, the department believes its own investigation was unnecessary given that the US Trade Representative's veto on the ITC's remedy already.

"As a result of the USTR's action, the Antitrust Division has determined that no further action is required at this time. The Antitrust Division is therefore closing its investigation into Samsung's conduct, but will continue to monitor further developments in this area," the Justice Department said.

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