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Samsung dealt blow in patents battle

European Union to investigate claims that technology giant is hindering competitors by not granting access to patents

Samsung has taken a hit in its 3G wireless patents battle against Apple after the EU announced it will investigate whether it is illegally trying to hinder competitors.

Brussels said it suspects Samsung of not giving other companies fair access to patents it holds on standardised 3G technology for mobile devices – despite committing to do so in 1998. The inquiry also affects tablets such as Apple’s latest iPad.

In Germany, a court ruled in favour of Apple in a separate case saying Samsung could not sell its Galaxy Tab 10.1 nor the Galaxy Tab 8.9 in the country because they too closely resembled the iPad2. Samsung and Apple are engaged in a strategic war over patents in many countries across the world as they try to draw market share away from each other.

The EU’s antitrust watchdog thinks the South Korean company may be overstepping the bounds, however, and launched a formal investigation of whether Samsung is strategically using key patents on 3G wireless technology to hinder competitors – including Apple.

“Samsung wrongly used the enormous reputation and prestige of the iPad,” Dusseldorf state court judge Wilhelm Berneke wrote in his ruling.

But the court said Samsung’s successor tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 N, was not affected by the ruling, and Samsung said while the decision was disappointing, it was largely irrelevant.

“Today’s ruling is of little factual relevance due to the new model Galaxy Tab 10.1 N, and … the decision therefore is of no indicative value with respect to other legal proceedings involving the Galaxy Tab 10.1 N,” Samsung said.

“Samsung will continue to take all appropriate measures, including legal action, to ensure continued consumer access to our innovative products.”

In Brussels, the European Commission said it suspects Samsung of not giving other companies fair access to patents it holds on standardised 3G technology for mobile devices – despite committing to do so in 1998.

A spokeswoman for the commission said the probe also affects tablets such as Apple’s newest iPad, which uses standardsed wireless 3G technology.

The commission said Samsung last year sought legal injunctions against other device makers in several EU states, alleging patent infringement. A spokesman said it launched the probe after its own investigation of the market, rather than reacting to complaints from Samsung’s competitors.

The investigation will now focus on whether in doing so Samsung failed to honour its commitment from 1998 to “license any standard essential patents relating to European mobile telephony standards on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.”

Nam Ki-yung, a spokesman at Samsung Electronics in South Korea, said his company was looking at details of the news on the probe but had no immediate comments.

The probe and victory in the German court for Apple come after the California company had several setbacks recently in its fight with Samsung.

Most recently, a Dutch court ruled on 24 January that Samsung’s Galaxy Tab tablet was not a copy of Apple’s iPad, and that it could continue to be sold in the Netherlands. That came after December decision in Sydney, where the High Court dismissed Apple’s appeal and said Samsung was free to sell its Galaxy tablet computers in Australia.

The battle began in April, Apple sued Samsung in the United States, alleging the product design, user interface and packaging of Samsung’s Galaxy devices “slavishly copy” the iPhone and iPad.

Samsung responded by filing its own lawsuits that accused Apple of patent infringement of its wireless telecommunications technology. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds