Alejandro Freixes
Nov 4, 2011

EU probes Samsung and Apple over patents

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU regulators are investigating whether Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Apple Inc have breached EU antitrust laws with patent infringement claims in their global legal battle, the European Commission said on Friday.

The two technology companies have been locked in legal disputes in 10 countries involving smartphones and tablet computers since April.

"The (European) Commission has indeed sent requests for information to Apple and Samsung concerning the enforcement of standards-essential patents in the mobile telephony sector," the European Union executive said in a statement.

"Such requests for information are standard procedure in antitrust investigations, to allow the Commission to establish the relevant facts in a case. We have no other comments at this stage," it added.

In lawsuits in several countries, Apple has argued that Samsung's Galaxy line of mobile phones and tablets "slavishly" copied its iPhone and iPad. Samsung, in turn, has brought patent infringement claims against Apple in several EU courts.

A statement from Samsung said the group had "at all times remained committed to fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing terms for our wireless standards-related patents.

"We have received a request for information from the European Commission and are cooperating fully," it said.

A Dutch court dismissed Samsung's arguments last month, saying its 3G patents were part of essential standards which should be open to license under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

Such tactics should worry regulators, said independent intellectual property expert Florian Mueller.

"Samsung went too far by trying to shut down Apple's products with its 3G patents in nine different countries on four continents. That's a recipe for triggering antitrust intervention," he said.

"This investigation has huge implications for Apple's dispute with Samsung, but way beyond those two companies, it's about the kind of licensing commitment the entire technology industry relies upon."

The Commission can fine a company up to 10 percent of its global turnover if it is found to have violated EU rules.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by David Holmes)