The European Commission is investigating the way Samsung Electronics licenses its patents on technology essential to mobile communications networks, concerned that it may be in breach of European competition law.
The Commission, Europe's highest antitrust authority, announced Tuesday that it has begun a formal investigation of Samsung's patent licensing practices.
The patents at issue relate to 3G mobile systems. Like other vendors working with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to develop the standards for 3G networks, Samsung gave a commitment in 1998 to license those of its patents considered essential to the standards on so-called fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.
Such undertakings guarantee that one vendor cannot use patents to prevent its competitors from selling standards-compliant products.
But in 2011, Samsung filed suit in a number of European courts, asserting that some of its competitors' products infringed on patents it considered essential for mobile communications devices, and seeking injunctions preventing distribution of the products in Europe. Apple was among Samsung's targets.
The Commission now plans to examine whether those lawsuits conflict with Samsung's earlier undertaking to license such patents on FRAND terms, and whether it has distorted competition in the market for mobile communications devices.