Watchdog probes Korean firm’s alleged 3G patent abuse
The nation’s antitrust watchdog is looking into whether Samsung Electronics’ patented wireless networking technologies could violate a fair licensing agreement within the industry, following a complaint filed by Apple Inc. in June.
The investigation by the Fair Trade Commission is expected to cover the two companies’ market shares in the smartphone market, competition structure and the dominance of Samsung’s patents essential to the third-generation wireless networking.
A Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S III smartphone (top) and a Galaxy Nexus smartphone (bottom) are arranged for a photograph next to the Apple Inc. logo in Seoul. (Bloomberg)
“It is true that we have launched an investigation into the case. We are following our usual probe proceedings. But we cannot elaborate further on an ongoing investigation,” said Noh Sang-sub, an official at the FTC’s anti-monopoly bureau.
A Samsung spokesperson declined to comment on the antitrust probe, citing a company policy.
The widening legal fight between Samsung and Apple began last year when the Cupertino, California-based company sued the Korean tech giant over various patent and design right infringements.
And Samsung fought back with patent infringement lawsuits of its own, many of which involved the 3G technologies.
Apple has criticized the licensing fees offered by Samsung for being “too high,” claiming it is ready to pay for the patent use based only on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory standards, or FRAND.
Before filing a complaint in Korea, Apple had already brought the issue to the European Union last year, prompting an antitrust investigation by regulators there.
Authorities both in Korea and Europe will focus on whether Samsung’s strategy of using the patent rights in lawsuits has abused its market dominance to discriminate its competitors.
Under the FRAND commitment, companies are obliged to offer their patented technologies in a fair way when they are considered “standards-essential” within the industry.
Samsung vowed to follow the legally binding FRAND in 1998.
After winning a crucial victory over Samsung in a U.S. court on Aug. 24 which included $1.05 billion in damages, Apple is intensifying its offensive against the Korean rival, including a request for a permanent ban of eight Samsung mobile devices in the U.S.
Industry watchers say the ongoing patent battle between the world’s top two handset makers will take a long time, with the first ruling unlikely to come out before late next year.
By Lee Ji-yoon