Samsung, Philips Sent EU Complaints Over Smart-Card Chips

Samsung Electronics Co. and Royal Philips Electronics NV are among companies to receive European Union antitrust complaints over claims they fixed the price of microchips for smart cards.

The European Commission said yesterday it sent statements of objections to a number of companies with its view “that they may have participated in a cartel.” The commission didn’t identify the companies. Philips, Samsung, Infineon Technologies AG and Renesas Technology Corp. said they received a complaint, which can be a precursor to fines.

The Brussels-based EU agency said in 2009 it raided companies that make chips for telephone SIM cards, bank cards and identity cards because they may have fixed prices, allocated customers and exchanged commercially sensitive information. The complaint follows the collapse of settlement talks that could have reduced fines by 10 percent.

“The essence of settlement is to benefit from a quicker, more efficient procedure, and to reach a common understanding on the existence and characteristics of a cartel,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in an e-mailed statement. “If that is not possible, the commission will not hesitate to revert to the normal procedure and to pursue the suspected infringement.”

2008 Raids

STMicroelectronics NV, Renesas and Atmel Corp. said regulators searched their offices in 2008 as part of the EU investigation. NXP Semiconductors NV, Europe’s third-largest chipmaker, said earlier this year that it was also involved in the probe and may be fined if the EU were to find it violated competition rules. STMicroelectronics, NXP and Atmel said they didn’t receive a statement of objections in the case.

Samsung received a complaint, spokesman Jason Kim said yesterday. Kay Laudien, a spokesman for Neubiberg, Germany-based Infineon, and Steve Klink, a spokesman for Amsterdam-based Philips both confirmed their companies had received complaints and that they were cooperating with regulators.

“Our lawyers are now reading through it, after which we may be able to say more,” Laudien said.

Chipmakers have incurred hefty punishments for past antitrust violations. Intel Corp. was fined a record 1.06 billion euros ($1.38 billion) by the EU in 2009 for monopoly abuse. The following year, the commission levied penalties totaling 331.2 million euros on Infineon and eight other manufacturers of dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, chips for personal computers and servers.

Car Navigation

The commission “does not intend to issue a statement of objections” against NXP, which was spun off from Philips in 2006, “nor to impose a fine on NXP with respect to the alleged cartel,” Lieke De Jong-Tops, a spokeswoman for Eindhoven, The Netherlands-based NXP, said in an e-mail.

Yoichi Kobayashi, a spokesman for Tokyo-based Renesas, said the company also got a statement of objections, declining to comment further. Renesas, which was established in 2003 by Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp., makes analog chips, microcontrollers, and semiconductors for products including mobile phones and car-navigation systems.

STMicroelectronics didn’t receive an EU complaint and wasn’t involved in the settlement talks, Paris-based spokesman Alexis Breton said in an e-mailed statement.

“Neither Atmel nor any of its affiliates have been charged with anything related to this matter,” Peter Schuman, senior director of investor relations at Atmel, said in a phone interview. “We sold the smart card business in the third quarter of 2010.”

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