The European Commission said Saturday that it has requested Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc. to provide details on their wireless patents as part of an initial procedure in antitrust investigations.
The commission sent requests for information to Samsung and Apple regarding the enforcement of standards-essential patents in the mobile telephony sector, the European Union's antitrust watchdog said.
"Such requests for information are standard procedure in antitrust investigations to allow the Commission to establish the relevant facts in a case," it said in an e-mailed statement.
Standards-essential patents cover areas that are crucial in order to comply with industry standards, such as third-generation (3G) wireless technology. Unlike other patents, standards-essential patents should be licensed under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, known as FRAND.
The move by the European Commission comes as Samsung and Apple, the world's two top smartphone vendors, are locked in fierce legal battles over smartphone and tablet patents.
In response to Apple's accusations in April that Samsung copied the look and feel of its products, Samsung claimed Apple violated its wireless patents, many of them concerning the 3G technology, and sought to block sales of the new iPhone 4S.
The Korean firm's effort to fight back against Apple hit a snag last month, however, when a Dutch court dismissed its request for a sales injunction on Apple's products. Judges in the Netherlands said Samsung's intellectual properties are standards-essential patents that should be licensed under the FRAND terms and refused to grant a sales ban against Apple.
These standards-essential patents must not be used as "strategic weapons" to win injunctions or discriminatory royalty payments, according to Florian Mueller, a Germany-based mobile patent consultant, who reported earlier on an EU probe into possible patent abuse.
The European Commission's questioning of the mobile giants drew media attention after Foss Patents, a blog on wireless intellectual properties, reported on a court filing made by Apple on Friday.
"Samsung's litigation campaign and other conduct related to its Declared-Essential Patents is so egregious that the European Commission recently has opened an investigation to determine whether Samsung's behavior violates EU competition laws," the U.S. company said in a recent filing with a U.S. district court in California.
A Samsung spokesman said he is looking into the matter.
The Korean firm is seeking sales bans of the iPhone 4S in France, Italy, Japan and Australia based on allegations that the iPhone maker infringed upon Samsung's wireless technology patents.
In a motion filed with a court in Japan, however, Samsung also claimed that Apple violated its design patents as well as a mobile technology patent.
The legal disputes between Samsung and Apple expanded to around 30 cases in 10 countries in Europe, the United States and Asia.
Samsung, which dethroned Apple in the third quarter in smartphone shipments and became the top smartphone vendor, is also a key semiconductor supplier to the U.S. company. (Yonhap News)