The European Union has filed a $15 billion charge against Samsung today. The penalty comes after Samsung attempted to use standards-essential patents against Apple in courts across Europe. Standards-essential patents are applied to technology that can be patented, but is also required in order for another competing product to comply with an industry standard or governmental regulation. Obviously, given such a scenario, any device that is compliant with a standard or regulation would also be infringing a patent held by a private party.
The wireless industry is heavily affected by this, since standards-essential patents are held on various pieces of wireless technology. Specifically, interfacing with the mobile 3G network is covered by patents from various companies. While these companies do hold patents on the technology, they aren’t allowed to use them in an offensive or aggressive manner. Samsung, a company that does hold many standards-essential patents, recently utilized them to try and ban Apple’s products from various countries across Europe. The EU has taken issue with Samsung’s use of standards-essential patents that pertain to 3G, in particular.
Charles Arthur for The Guardian explains:
Samsung, by contrast, has frequently tried to use its SEPs, which differ from the patents asserted by Apple in that they are only included in a standard such as 3G if the owner makes a formal commitment to license them to allcomers on a “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” basis.
If the licenser and licencee cannot agree on pricing, it is set by a court. The commission noted that Apple had offered to make a payment, but that the two sides differed on the sums involved.
Samsung’s legal practices are also being scrutinized by the Korean Fair Trade Commission for similar reasons.
Samsung will try to settle with the EU for less than $15 billion, though it’s unclear what that price might end up being. There is a bright spot for Samsung, though. Most of these court cases are based on older devices which are no longer in production. All of Samsung’s latest smartphones, starting with the Galaxy S III, were designed to avoid Apple’s patents. Apple will have a significantly more difficult time convincing judges and jurors across the globe that Samsung stole their intellectual property with the latest batch of devices, and that trend seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future as Samsung continues to innovate in the mobile phone space.