Korea launches probe into Samsung over wireless patents abuse

Samsung is under fire in its home turf of South Korea over an alleged abuse of its wireless patents, Reuters reported today. The Korea Fair Trade Commission confirmed that the country’s watchdog has launched an investigation based on Apple’s antitrust complaints against Samsung which alleges that the Galaxy maker is abusing its patents to gain an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

Of course, Apple won a landmark victory in a high-stake U.S. trial last month that found Samsung guilty of breaching Apple’s design and utility patents. The jury awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages and ruled that the iPhone maker had not violated any of Samsung’s patents.

Samsung later promised to sue Apple immediately if the next iPhone is released with support for fourth-generation Long-Term Evolution (LTE) radio technology…

Samsung promised back in 1998 to license its 3G patents to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute on FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms, but apparently regulators in both South Korea and European Union are taking an issue with that, Reuters reported:

The FTC is investigating whether Samsung is unfairly competing in the market by abusing its dominance in wireless technology patents. Apple filed its complaints earlier this year, said an FTC official, who is not authorized to talk to the media.

European Union regulators have also been investigating Samsung for possible breaches of antitrust rules by accusing rivals of infringing its technology patents.

As for Samsung’s threats to sue Apple over 4G LTE technology in the iPhone 5, patent bloger Florian Müeller explained why the Galaxy maker really cannot get the iPhone 5 banned over 4G LTE patents:

It tried this trick last year with 3G patent assertions against the iPhone 4S, with a hit rate of zero. I would strongly discourage Samsung from trying to use 4G/LTE-essential patents to shut down the iPhone 5.

It won’t improve Samsung’s position. It will only make things worse, especially with antitrust regulators. In my view, the reasonable approach for Samsung would be to sue for FRAND royalties over its SEPs, not injunctions.

According to this Korea Times article, Samsung owns the world’s third-largest 4G/LTE portfolio, though that doesn’t matter much because it only takes one bullet to kill.

Additionally, the iPhone 5 is said to carry a Qualcomm baseband chip and Qualcomm and Samsung have a patent license agreement in place, meaning its 4G LTE patent infringement assertion probably won’t yield desired results.

Care to extend an opinion?