European Commission Launches Investigation Into Samsung’s Litigation Tactics

In this week’s news from the front lines, the European Commission has decided to initiate a preliminary investigation of Samsung’s litigation tactics with regards to its standards-essential patents. While Apple’s accusations against Samsung have been centered around its own intellectual property, Samsung’s counterclaims both in Europe and here in the States are based on its own 3G wireless-related patents.

Because said patents are standards-essential patents (and thus, available to any company to license under FRAND licensing terms), Samsung’s use of them in a court setting may be seen as “egregious,” or at least that’s how Apple’s putting it.

The European Commission’s statement on the matter doesn’t offer up much meat, but confirms that an investigation is indeed underway:

The Commission has indeed sent requests for information to Apple and Samsung concerning the enforcement of standards-essential patents in the mobile telephony sector. 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.

Something worth noting is that though the wording may be misleading, Samsung is the only party under investigation here. Even though the Commission has requested information from both Apple and Samsung, the investigation is clearly concerned with “the enforcement of standards-essential patents in the mobile telephony sector.” Apple hasn’t filed any suits or complaints over any such patent thus far. In fact, as Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents points out, Apple wasn’t even in the biz when UMTS/3G was created.

No, this investigation is directed at Samsung, and could be devastating to Samsung’s case. If the Commission finds Samsung guilty of abusing FRAND licensing terms, it may force the South Korean company to withdraw a large majority of its complaints against Apple.

Within a court filing with the Northern California court system, Apple had this to say about it:

Samsung’s efforts to coerce Apple into tolerating Samsung’s imitation have not been limited to the counterclaims here [in California]. Samsung has launched an aggressive, worldwide campaign to enjoin Apple from allegedly practicing Samsung’s patents. Samsung has sued Apple for infringement and injunctions in no fewer than eight countries outside the United States. Indeed, Samsung’s litigation campaign and other conduct related to its Declared-Essential Patents is so egregious that the European Commission recently has opened an investigation to determine whether Samsung’s behavior violates EU competition laws. Apple brings these Counterclaims In Reply to halt Samsung’s abuse and protect consumers, the wireless telecommunications industry, and Apple from further injury.

Well, them’s fightin’ words if I’m not mistaken. But Samsung is playing it cool, reports They’ve denied any abuse of FRAND terms and made specific mention of the fact that this is “preliminary,” and nothing more. Well, at least not yet.

Samsung has 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] Commission and are cooperating fully. Note that this is a preliminary investigation and the European Commission has not yet determined whether to conduct a full investigation.

This isn’t the first time that FRAND terms have been an obstacle for Samsung. In October, a judge in the Hague Court in the Netherlands said that Samsung wouldn’t win its injunction because the patents it was enforcing were standards-essential patents. This time, however, an investigation has ensued.