(CN) - Stepping up its criticism of Samsung on Friday, the European Commission informed the Korean gadget maker that its efforts to ban Apple products may violate antitrust laws.
Regulators informed Samsung that seeking injunctions against Apple throughout Europe for infringements of standard-essential patents (SEPs) amounts to an abuse of its dominant market position. The commission launched its investigation a year ago, and it said that its latest formal statement of objections is the second step in the process.
While injunctions may be appropriate in some cases, pursuing legal action for SEPs when the potential licensee is willing to negotiate a license on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms may constitute abuse, the commission acknowledged. Tech companies are typically required to license patents they call standard-essential on FRAND terms so that all companies' gadgets are interoperable in the market.
Samsung's SEPs relate to the European Telecommunications Standardization Institute's 3G UMTS standard, a key to wireless and mobile devices across the EU. Regulators say Samsung agreed to license its 3G UMTS-related patents on FRAND terms when the standard was rolled out.
But Samsung has since engaged Apple in a worldwide tech war and sought injunctions of Apple products in several EU countries. To date, the two companies are engaged in more than 50 battles across the globe over patents related to Apple's iPhones and iPads and Samsung's Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets.
In August, a U.S. jury found that Samsung "slavishly copied" several of Apple's patents to produce the Galaxy products. A federal judge declined to punish Samsung with permanent injunctions earlier this week.
Commission vice president in charge of competition policy Joaquin Almunia said that a level playing field is essential to innovation despite the importance of protecting intellectual property,.
"Intellectual property rights are an important cornerstone of the single market," Almunia said in a statement. "However, such rights should not be misused when they are essential to implement industry standards, which bring huge benefits to businesses and consumers alike. When companies have contributed their patents to an industry standard and have made a commitment to license the patents in return for fair remuneration, then the use of injunctions against willing licensees can be anti-competitive."
The next step in the regulatory process gives Samsung the opportunity to defend its actions. If the commission finds antitrust violations, it can impose a fine of up to 10 percent of Samsung's profits worldwide.
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