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EC opens Samsung patent investigation

European competition regulators have requested information from Samsung in a case involving Apple, its rival in multiple patent-infringement lawsuits.

Joaquin Almunia, the EC commissioner in charge of competition
Joaquin Almunia, the EC commissioner in charge of competition European Commission

European regulators have begun scrutinizing whether Samsung was fair in matters concerning the overlap of standards and patents, the latest development in a global legal battle with Apple over smartphone technology.

Lawsuit watcher Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents spotted the move in an Apple court filing. The Apple filing said, "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."

And the EC confirmed the move in a statement to CNET: "The Commission has indeed sent requests for information to Apple and Samsung concerning the enforcement of standards-essential patents in the mobile telephony sector," said Marisa González Iglesias, a spokeswoman for the European Commission's competition regulation division. "Such requests for information are standard procedure in antitrust investigations to allow the commission to establish the relevant facts in a case."

Samsung didn't immediately comment. But in a statement to the Dutch publication Webwereld, Samsung said it's cooperating with the authorities, that it's committed to fair and reasonable licensing terms, and that the EC is involved in a preliminary investigation, not full investigation.

Patents and standards don't always get along comfortably. One company can license its patents to another or not as it sees fit, but when those patents are involved in an industry standard the patent holder helped to create, they typically must be offered under reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms--even to rivals.

Apple and Samsung have been locked in a patent battle for months, with Apple launching the case in April with claims that Samsung's Android phones and tablets copy Apple's patented technology used in iPhones and iPads. Samsung countersued, alleging Apple violated its wireless communication patents. The case has spread to Europe, Australia, and Asia as well.