US Department of Justice probing Samsung over use of FRAND patents against Apple

The South Korean conglomerate Samsung has become the target of another antitrust investigation concerning suspected abuse of FRAND-pledged standard-essential patents, which the company asserted against Apple in litigation and recently used to sue the Cupertino, California firm over 4G wireless technology utilized for the iPhone 5.

This time around, the United States Department of Justice is preliminary probing Samsung, which could lead to a full-blown investigation. If it finds an unlawful use of standard-essential wireless patents on Samsung’s part, it’ll clear Apple of a possible U.S. import ban sought by Samsung because the iPhone maker had refused to accept a Samsung-suggested per-device royalty fee of 2.4 percent (Apple wanted to pay half a cent per device)…

The news comes via Apple’s statement on public interest considerations relevant to the investigation of Samsung’s complaint, filed with the ITC on Monday, notes patent blogger Florian Müeller on FOSS Patents.

Apple writes in the filing that “the United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the manner in which Samsung has used – or misused – its declared-essential patents”.

Bloomberg in June reported that “the Justice Department will scrutinize Samsung Electronics Co.’s handling of industry-standard patent claims”, leading Müeller to note that Apple’s filing with the ITC suggests that this has meanwhile occurred.

Müeller explains:

I have no doubt that Apple’s representation is accurate because Apple would otherwise risk major problems with the ITC and the DoJ.

Apple told the ITC about the DoJ investigation as part of its defense against Samsung’s request for a U.S. import ban against Apple’s core products. Samsung filed the related ITC complaint in June 2011

Earlier this year the European Union launched a probe into Samsung’s handling of standard-essential patents, which must be licensed must on fair, reasonable and on non-discriminatory terms, or FRAND. The European Union took issue with Samsung’s decade-old promise to license its mobile patents to competitors when required.

Apple also in January filed a complaint against Google’s subsidiary Motorola with the European Commission over an alleged FRAND abuse.

The Wall Street Journal last week reported that the search giant could settle with the United States Federal Trade Commission over accusations it improperly refused to grant patent licenses to competitors while using Motorola to seek sales injunctions.

Prior to that story, Google’s chief legal counsel David Drummond indicated his company is tiring of patent wars.

Google “is walking a fine line” in that it advocates reforms in the U.S. patent system in order to “reduce the amount of litigation around mobile computing software and devices”, Drummond said.

It doesn’t take much digging to find statements from Apple, Microsoft, all lamenting the fact that we have this patent litigation. These are not companies that say we’re all about patents and wake up in the morning wanting to think about patents.

Korea also launched an investigation into Samsung over an alleged wireless patent abuse.

How do you think the industry should handle standard-essential FRAND patents, like Samsung’s patents pertaining to 4G LTE wireless technology?