Samsung Faces Patent Abuse Inquiry as Apple Hoards LTE Patents

The Korea Fair Trade Association is investigating whether Samsung is abusing its wireless technology patents to unfairly dominate the market, Reuters reported Thursday. The investigation was initiated after Samsung’s market and legal rival Apple filed complaints with the Association earlier this year.

Litigation between Apple and Samsung continues in many jurisdictions, but following Samsung’s defeat in California last month, the company declared that it would retaliate by “immediately” suing Apple if the Cupertino company releases a smartphone with LTE technology, which Apple is expected to do this month.

Samsung owns a large number of wireless patents, including over 800 related to LTE, although not all are eligible for offensive patent lawsuits. Many may fall under the classification of FRAND — Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory — licensing agreements, which limit how companies can or must licence them, and patent holders’ options for litigation.

Not wanting to invite another lengthy and revealing lawsuit over its future iDevices, however, Apple has aggressively acquired LTE patents over the past year. The iPhone maker now holds 434 LTE-related patents, according to South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo.

Apple’s acquisition of LTE patents has been quick and effective. The company held no LTE-related patents a year ago but, since then, has developed 44 of its own, purchased 274 from Nortel and Freescale, and acquired a majority stake in Rockstar Bidco, a patent enforcement firm that owns an additional 116 patents.

Through a combination of an enhanced patent portfolio and requests for regulatory agencies to investigate Samsung’s use of its patents, Apple hopes to thwart any attempts or desire by the Korean electronics giant to engage in additional litigation.

Apple has not commented on the situation but Samsung told Reuters that the company has at all times met its obligations, set forth in 1998, to fairly license its telecommunications standard patents.