BRUSSELS--European Union regulators said late Friday they had made a formal complaint against Samsung Electronics Co. (005930.SE) over its past use of injunctions against Apple Inc. (AAPL)
The complaint, known as a statement of objections, was widely expected, with EU officials saying Thursday it would come in the next few weeks.
In a statement, European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said while the use of injunctions is a fair remedy for patent infringements "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," Mr. Almunia said in a statement.
The European Commission in January began investigating Samsung, saying it suspected the company of breaking EU competition rules by suing competitors for their use of key technologies for which Samsung holds the patents. The commission said at the time it believed Samsung had previously committed to allowing competitors to use those technologies under "fair and reasonable terms," since they are essential to applying industry standards such as Third Generation, or 3G, wireless networks.
Earlier this week, Samsung decided to withdraw its legal injunctions in Europe against Apple. At a press conference Thursday, Mr. Almunia welcomed that but said past possible abuses would still come under scrutiny.
The Korean electronics firm Tuesday abandoned attempts to seek sales bans on Apple's iPhone and iPad in Europe using patents related to wireless standards, in a move seen as an attempt to placate regulators. The withdrawal came on the heels of a California judge's refusal to block sales of dozens of Samsung mobile devices that a jury this summer found violated numerous Apple patents.
Under EU procedures, Samsung now has the right to reply to the EU's concerns or seek a hearing. A final decision will be made only after that. The commission stressed that the sending of a statement of objections "does not prejudge the final outcome" of the probe.
Apple and Samsung have been locked in a global, legal war over mobile-device patents as they try to get rival products pulled from the shelves. Such injunctions are used by legal combatants to pressure their opponents, or gain leverage in settlement negotiations.
On Friday, the commission said it is in close contact with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on issues relating to standard essential patents.
In August, a U.S. court awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages after a jury found Samsung guilty of copying critical features of the iPad and iPhone. Samsung uses Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android operating system for its devices.
Write to Laurence Norman and Vanessa Mock at [email protected]
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