The European Commission [official website] has opened an investigation into whether Apple and Samsung Electronics [corporate websites] have breached EU antitrust laws in their dispute over smartphone patents. The investigation could potentially force Samsung to halt action [FOSS Patents report] against Apple over smartphone patents in the EU. The European Commission enforces Articles 101 - 109 [materials] of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) [text, PDF; materials]. Article 102 of the TFEU prohibits "directly or indirectly imposing unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading conditions" and "limiting production, markets or technical development to the prejudice of consumers." The EU patent system has a compulsory licensing regime under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) [materials]. TRIPs gives entities the freedom to negotiate licenses, but if they are unable to reach an agreement within a reasonable length of time then the government may impose a compulsory license under Article 31 [text]. Although both Samsung and Apple have been asked to provide additional information for the European Commission's initial investigation, commentators suggest that Samsung is the primary target of the investigation. The European Commission's investigation will likely revolve around whether Samsung has undertaken negotiations for a "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" licensing regime, or whether they are using their patent rights to attempt to impose a harsher licensing agreement on Apple. However, Apple in turn has also asserted intellectual property rights against Samsung. Both Samsung and Apple [JURIST reports] have filed complaints with the US International Trade Commission (USITC) [official website] attempting to stop the importation of the others smartphones and tablets.
The European Commission's investigation is the latest installment in the ongoing conflict between the two companies. In June Apple filed suit [JURIST report] in the Seoul Central District Court against the "Galaxy" line. In April, Apple also filed a similar suit against Samsung [JURIST report] in the US. Samsung countered [JURIST report] by filing patent infringement suits against Apple in three different countries, alleging that Apple had infringed its technology related to energy consumption and preventing data transmission errors. Though competitors, Samsung and Apple rely on each in business. Apple is the largest buyer of computer and phone chips, while Samsung is the world's largest manufacturer of those chips. In fact, after Apple's initial lawsuit against Samsung, Apple indicated a willingness to continue working with Samsung [Bangkok Post report] as a partner.