Samsung's efforts to seek injunctions against Apple for standards-essential patents in the mobile phone market may be an abuse of its dominant position and a violation of European Union antitrust rules, the European Commission said Friday.
In releasing a statement of objections to Samsung's patent conduct, the commission -- the E.U.'s executive arm -- said it was concerned that Samsung was seeking injunctions on patents where Apple is willing to negotiate a license on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms.
The patents in question are part of international technical standards (thus arecalled "standards-essential patents), and so must be licensed to all comers under FRAND terms, but Samsung is accused of seeking more onerous conditions from Apple during license negotiations than it holds other potential licensees to. The objections released Friday represent a preliminary position from the commission.
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"Intellectual property rights are an important cornerstone of the single market," Joaquín Almunia, the commission's vice president for competition policy, said in a statement. "However, such rights should not be misused when they are essential to implement industry standards, which bring huge benefits to businesses and consumers alike."
Earlier in the week, as the commission readied its objections against Samsung, Samsung announced that it would withdraw all its injunctions against Apple in European countries.
Samsung gave a commitment in 1998 to license its patents considered essential to certain telecommunication standards on FRAND terms. However, Samsung filed several lawsuits in a number of European countries in 2011, asserting that some of its competitors' products, including Apple devices, infringed on patents it considered essential for mobile communications devices, and sought injunctions preventing distribution of the products in Europe.
Samsung said it was studying the commission's objections. The company "will firmly defend ourselves against any misconceived allegations," Samsung said in a statement provided by an outside public relations group. "Samsung is confident that in due course the Commission will conclude that we have acted in compliance with European Union competition laws."
The Samsung patents being examined by the commission relate to the European Telecommunications Standardisation Institute's (ETSI) 3G UMTS standard, an industry standard for mobile and wireless communications.
A statement of objections is a formal step in commission investigations. The commission informs the companies involved, the companies can reply in writing and request an oral hearing.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for the IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.