Samsung agrees not to use SEPs to seek bans in the EU for five years

Even as Apple, Inc. (AAPL) moves to ban its products in several EU jurisdictions, Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KSC:005930) own efforts to fight back hit a roadblock due to European Union (EU) scrutiny over its use (or abuse)?  Of so-called standards-essential patents (SEPs), which must be licensed under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

As a veteran of the phone industry Samsung focused much of its intellectual property on standards, at a time when most OEMs in the industry embraced collaboration.  Today is filled with disruptive new entrants such as Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Apple, two companies with roots in the PC space who made the leap to phones in recent years.  

While Microsoft agreed to a lucrative licensing deal, Apple has been particularly belligerent, looking to ban Samsung's products which it says infringe on its portfolio of much more ambiguous patents such as claims to a "rectangular" smartphone design or to animations in a user interface.

Samsung v. Apple
Apple refused to license its ambiguous patents to Samsung insisting Samsung should be banned from the market. [Image Source: TechnoBuffalo]

Samsung was stuck between a rock and a hard place, so it did something possibly illegal -- it used its SEPs to try to counterattack Apple.  And now it's paid the price, following an EU probe.  In a new proposed settlement Samsung has agreed to refrain from using SEPs in lawsuits for the next five years.

Apple D'889 patent
Apple's patent arsenal includes a patent claiming ownership of all rectangular tablets [pictured].

Joaquin Almunia, chief antitrust regulator for the European Commission (EC), the agency that regulates competition in the European Union (EU) praised the move, remarking:

Enforcing patents through injunctions can be perfectly legitimate. However, when patents are standard-essential, abuses must be prevented so that standard-setting works properly and consumers do not have to suffer negative consequences from the so-called patent wars.

The concession could help Samsung avoid a fine.  And Samsung has, for now, managed to beat of Apple's ban attempts in some key jurisdictions.  In Britain Apple was forced to print an apology for falsely accusing Samsung of infringement, and then was admonished after it try to undermine this court order.  Apple was also forced to pay Samsung's court fees.  And in Germany and the Netherlands, two jurisdictions where Apple scored early wins, Samsung made minor modifications to keep its devices on the market.

Apple was forced to apologize for falsely accusing Samsung in the UK. [Image Source:: The Next Web]
In the U.S. the Obama administration recently handed Apple a controversial win when it allowed a ban by Apple of certain older Samsung smartphones and tablets, but vetoed a similar ban on Apple products, due to the fact that the patents involved were SEPs.

In the long term Samsung is left rather defenseless if Apple tries to sue its new devices for being rectangles or other supposed infringements.  If Samsung were wise, when it comes to patents it would abandon its spirit of cooperation which seems to be dead in the smartphone industry and embrace patenting vague and ambiguous interface ideas.  That way next time Samsung gets sued it will have perfectly legal firepower to fire back with.

Source: Europa [EU press releases]

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