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[EU antitrust regulator probes Samsung for abuse of mobile phone patents]

Samsung Electronics Co. is being probed by European Union antitrust regulators over licensing of patents to other mobile-phone manufacturers.

The European Commission said it will investigate whether Samsung broke a 1998 commitment to license any standard essential patents for phones on “fair, reasonable and non- discriminatory terms.” It acted after Samsung claimed last year in European courts that rivals infringed its patents, the EU said in a statement.

Regulators have increased scrutiny of intellectual property rights, with EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia saying last month that he wanted to ensure patents weren’t used to block rivals’ expansion. He is also probing Honeywell International Inc. and DuPont Co. over chemical patents and is looking into standards in the banking industry.

The EU is “very interested in standards because of their increased importance in view of the telecom boom and the disputes that are going on in the handheld industry,” said Douwe Groenevelt, a lawyer with De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek NV in Brussels. Companies that own “standards-essential patents are in a very powerful position” because rivals must ask for a license to make products compatible with industry norms.

James Chung, a spokesman for Samsung in Seoul, Korea, declined to immediately comment on the EU investigation.

The EU commission will investigate whether Samsung broke EU monopoly abuse rules and violated a commitment to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute over licensing terms by using “certain of its standard essential patent rights to distort competition in European mobile device markets,” the Brussels-based agency said in an e-mailed statement.

The EU said in November that it was quizzing Samsung and rival Apple Inc. over the use of patents. Both companies were sent requests for information about “the enforcement of standards-essential patents in the mobile-telephony sector,” the EU said at the time. (Bloomberg)
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