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Samsung, Apple Quizzed by EU Over Patent Enforcement

Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc. were questioned by European Union antitrust regulators over the use of smartphone patents, the European Commission said.

Samsung and Apple were sent requests for information on “the enforcement of standards-essential patents in the mobile-telephony sector,” according to a spokeswoman for the Brussels-based regulator who declined to be identified, citing office policy. The requests are standard procedure, she said.

“This is all about Samsung,” said Florian Mueller, a Munich-based consultant who has done work for rival mobile-phone operating system-maker Microsoft Corp. “Apple does not assert any standards-essential patents in court.”

Apple and Samsung have filed at least 30 lawsuits against each other in 10 countries, according to Samsung. While Apple has also sued Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. and HTC Corp. over phones using the same operating system, the company’s now-deceased founder Steve Jobs took particular interest in Samsung devices because of what he saw as blatant similarities to the sleek look of its iPhone and iPad tablet computer.

Apple said in a filing in a California court case last week that Samsung faced an EU antitrust investigation into its “egregious” misuse of patents. The Cupertino, California-based company didn’t indicate it also received a request for information in the filing. Apple wouldn’t confirm whether it received a request for information from the EU and declined to comment today beyond the California court filing.

Samsung is cooperating with the EU request and “has at all times remained committed to fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing terms for our wireless standards-related patents,” according to a statement from Brendon Gore, Samsung’s European spokesman.

‘Egregious’ Litigation

“Samsung’s litigation campaign and other conduct related to its declared-essential patents is so egregious that the European Commission recently has opened an investigation to determine whether Samsung’s behavior violates EU competition laws,” Apple said in the Oct. 28 federal court filing.

Apple’s court filing was previously reported on Mueller’s Foss Patents blog. Mueller said last month that Microsoft has asked him to write a report on the use of standards-essential patents in litigation in licensing.

Microsoft makes an operating system that competes with Google’s Android, used by Samsung and others, and has sued companies that refuse to pay the Redmond, Washington-based company royalties on products that run on the Android system. Samsung agreed in September to pay Microsoft royalties for using Android on its mobile phones and tablets.

Intense Fighting

The fight over intellectual property is particularly intense because of the complex relationship between Apple and Samsung. Samsung, based in Suwon, South Korea, is the second-largest component supplier for Apple and gets about 7.6 percent of its total revenue from selling memory chips, displays and other components for the iPhone and iPad, according to Bloomberg data.

Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, said last year that he wanted more openness in the way industry standards are set for products such as mobile phones because they are “becoming increasingly important in facilitating innovation.”

EU regulators in 2009 dropped a probe into Rambus Inc., a U.S. memory-chip designer, after it agreed to cut patent royalty rates for some products. Chipmakers accused Rambus of trying to get patents included in a technology standard used by the industry so it could improperly collect royalties.

The California case is: Apple Inc. v Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose), 11-cv-01846.

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