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European Commission worries global patent battle spinning out of control

Apple (s aapl) and Samsung’s patent gripes are troubling Europe’s top body governing antitrust concerns, European Commissioner Joaquín Almunia told reporters on Tuesday, according to ZDNet. (s cbs) The European Commission has asked both Apple and Samsung for additional information regarding patents in dispute between the two companies, because, as Almunia says, intellectual property rights can be “used as a tool of abuse” and the Commission wants to make sure that isn’t what’s happening in this case.

Almunia said the European Commission for Competition, which is tasked with ensuring that no one company in Europe gains an undue advantage over others in the same industry, “requested information from both Apple and Samsung,” but has “not yet received the answers.” Almunia’s comments seem to indicate both companies face scrutiny, contrary to what Apple appeared to be claiming in an earlier court filing citing the European Commission’s request for info from Samsung.

Although the Commissioner didn’t go into detail about what kind of information the Commission was after, he stressed the need for the companies to be forthcoming in order to guard against the idea that “intellectual properties can be used as a distortion of competition.” He also admits Apple and Samsung obviously aren’t alone in how they’re wielding patents as weapons against competitors. The example they provide is timely, however, and high-profile, with patent disputes between the two playing out in courtrooms around the world.

If the Commission finds that either company is abusing patent rights, they could be in line to receive fines ranging up to tens of millions of euros. It still might be worth pursuing in terms of gains achieved by preventing the sale of devices in entire markets, as the injunctions sought by both parties would accomplish. We’ll have to see if the European Commission poking into the matter makes either party more gun-shy, or if the legal actions continue to pile up unabated.

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