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Samsung could reportedly save Apple from Korean investigators

Analysis: Now that would be a twist.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple and Samsung are tremendous rivals. Even if they finally managed to settle their long-running patent dispute this June and continue to do other forms of business, they're still duking it out in ads and new device announcements as they strive to eat one another's lunch. 

So it'd be a little weird if Samsung were to save Apple from losing loads of money in its home country of South Korea, no?

And yet that's a distinct possibility, according to statements from South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) reported by at least two Korean publications today.

You see, Apple has been one of several companies under investigation by MOTIE's Korean Trade Commission for potentially violating the patents of South Korean university KAIST's licensing arm for what's known as FinFET semiconductor technology. It's one of the breakthroughs in recent decades that allowed semiconductors to continue to shrink in size (and thus let chips increase in speed and complexity).

Today, BusinessKorea and SEDaily are reporting that investigators are likely to side with KAIST and could fine Apple or even outright ban infringing Apple devices from being imported into the country, under South Korean law. "The targets include iPhone 8, iPhone 8+, iPhone X, iPad 9.7, and 9.7-, 10.5-, and 12.9-inch iPad Pro imported from China and Hong Kong," according to the report.

Where does Samsung fit into all this? Samsung has already been fighting KAIST in court in the United States, where a judge ordered the Samsung to pay $400 million in June -- and South Korean investigators reportedly say Samsung has now submitted evidence in that case that might invalidate KAIST's patent.

If so, KAIST's case wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Samsung might save itself some money, and save its rival Apple, too.

But that's a lot of "what ifs". 

The Korean Ministry, Apple, and Samsung didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

AppleInsider reported the news earlier.