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Apple/Samsung Legal Skirmishes Have A New Player: The European Commission

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The ongoing, back-and-forth legal fight that is the Apple/Samsung patent dispute today took on a new dimension in one of its key battlegrounds, when the European Commission launched an antitrust inquiry into Samsung’s technology licensing practices.

This looks like the next step along in an investigation that was first launched by the European Commission last year, when its interest was piqued by cases concerning Samsung’s technology patents.

At least some of these patents fall under FRAND (Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) licensing rules that regulate how much Samsung can charge Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) to license them for use in products like its iPhone and iPad. Apple contends it has paid up; Samsung believes it has not.

The Commission’s chief antitrust interest is in whether Samsung, being a dominant player in the handset market, is overcharging its handset competitors (like Apple) to use these patents as a way of handicapping them in the market.

The Commission writes in a news release that launching formal proceedings “means that the Commission will examine the case as a matter of priority,” but not that it has already taken a judgement on the matter.

We have reached out to Samsung for a formal response to this announcement and will update this post as we learn more. In the meantime, the WSJ notes that a Commission spokesperson said that the proceedings were undertaken independently, and not at the response of any complaint from a private company.

Meanwhile, this was not the only piece of negative legal news that Samsung had in Europe today.

In Germany, a court upheld the injunction that was put on to Samsung’s 10.1-inch version of its Android-based Galaxy Tab, one of the devices that Apple believes copies its own iPad tablet. Samsung has actually created a new version of the 10.1 Tab, the 10.1N, to sell to the German market that gets around the issues that Apple raises in its complaint. This has gotten the all-clear to sell in other markets like Australia. The German case to sell the 10.1N is due to be heard later this month.

Samsung and Apple, big competitors in the marketplace over their respective smartphones and tablets, are fighting each other in courtrooms around the world over patents, including in the U.S., Korea and Japan, Australia, the UK and several courts in Europe.