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Patent abuse at heart of Samsung investigation in South Korea

Apple alleged in a complaint earlier this year that Samsung is abusing its portfolio of wireless patents

South Korea's Fair Trade Commission is investigating a complaint by Apple that arch-rival manufacturer Samsung is abusing its wireless technology patents in the country, an official said Friday.

"Apple filed the complaint against Samsung early this year and we have been investigating the case," said Noh Sang-seop, a Fair Trade Commission's anti-monopoly director. No further details about the complaint or the investigation were provided.

In March, Apple accused Samsung of violating the country's fair trade act, after which Samsung submitted a rebuttal, according to a report by The Hankyoreh, a South Korean newspaper.

Both Apple and Samsung spokesmen declined to comment.

Analysts said that the patents are not suited to the offensive lawsuits that the companies have lobbed at each other around the globe -- in particular, patents covering technology that are essential to industry standards. In Samsung's case, it pledged more than a decade ago to license its communications patents on fair and reasonable terms.

"[Samsung's] standard essential patents won't be a strong weapon in the ongoing patent war, it should only use them as a shield, ... , [Samsung] should rather focus on developing more effective 3G-, 4G- technology patents," said Park Chan-hoon, a patent lawyer at Kangho Attorneys at Law.

The regulator's probe in South Korea comes to light as the two companies, which together account for half the world's smartphone market, are clashing in lawsuits in 10 countries, and less than two weeks after Apple's significant victory over Samsung in a U.S. court, which found Samsung guilty of violating Apple patents and cleared Apple of infringing on the South Korean firm's intellectual property.

Samsung faired better in a Seoul court, which ruled last month that Apple had violated its telecommunications-related patents.

Since Apple first sued Samsung last April for patent infringement, Samsung has fired back in European courts claiming its right over the standard essential patents. The European Commission is investigating whether Samsung is in breach of European Union antitrust law due to its assertion of standard-essential patents.

Samsung is the largest conglomerate in South Korea, contributing about 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

If Apple is successful in either E.U. or South Korean courts, Samsung will probably have to pay damages and agree to license fees for its technologies that will likely be lower than what it has demanded in previous negotiations with Apple, said Park Kyung-shin, a law professor at Korea University.


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