This is probably not entirely surprising. The European Commission has announced that it is investigating both Apple and Samsung because they may have breached antitrust rules with regard to patents used as standard in the mobile phone industry – otherwise known as FRAND patents. While the EC states it’s investigating both Samsung and Apple, it’s likely the investigation focusses on Samsung.
The European Commission’s statement was fairly short and to the point. “The Commission has indeed sent requests for information to Apple and Samsung concerning the enforcement of standards-essential patents in the mobile telephony sector,” the EC said in a statement, “Such requests for information are standard procedure in antitrust investigations to allow the Commission to establish the relevant facts in a case. We have no other comments at this stage.”
It’s very likely that Apple is the one who asked for this investigation. After Apple attacked Samsung with several software patents and community designs (upheld in Germany, dismissed in The Netherlands), Samsung defended itself in several countries, claiming Apple infringed several of its 3G-related patents. The issue is that these patents are essential to the standard, and therefore, must be licensed under fair and reasonable terms.
Unlike what some are saying, it is definitely not against the law or in any other way illegal to sue for possible infringement of FRAND patents. When two parties are negotiating a FRAND license (like Apple and Samsung were doing), and the FRAND patent holder believes the other party is not accepting a valid FRAND offer, then the patent holder may definitely take them to court. This is exactly what Samsung did.
However, this is where Samsung went wrong; the Dutch judge basically labelled Apple and Samsung a bunch of squabbling kids, and sent them back to the negotiating table, stating that Samsung’s offer was not FRAND, because the licensing costs Samsung asked were out of line with the industry standard. Consequently, Apple is now claiming that Samsung is engaging in anticompetitive practices by suing over these FRAND patents.
The EC is apparently investigating this issue now, and I can only see that as a good thing. According to the EC’s statement, they’re investigating both companies, which hopefully indicates that the entire back-and-forth between the two companies – which is hurting consumers, the only people that should actually matter – is held under closer inspection.
While I loathe Apple for abusing software patents and community designs to stifle competition in Europe, that’s not a free pass for Samsung to abuse its FRAND patents. The best outcome here would be if the EC put both Apple and Samsung in their place. In the end, the EC should care about consumers, and not the bottom lines of an American and a Korean company. And let’s face it – not a single consumer benefits from the two companies blocking each other’s products from the market, or from the fact they’re wasting money on this instead of on actually, you know, making products.
Let’s hope the EC tears both companies a new one. I’m sick of this anti-consumer bull%$&#.