South Korea’s Samsung was dealt another blow in its global legal battle with Apple today, as a Netherlands court ruled (Dutch) the company cannot get an injunction on iPad or iPhone sales because of a dispute over 3G technology patents used in the products. The patents in question are essential parts of 3G/UMTS technology standards and are supposed to be licensed to anyone who wants them under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms (FRAND). The Dutch court ruled that Samsung isn’t entitled to an injunction on the sales of products using the disputed patents so long as Apple is willing to negotiate a deal.
Apple has consistently claimed it is willing to pay reasonable licensing fees for the patents, but maintains Samsung is abusing the FRAND process and attempting to extort exorbitant payments for the standards-related patents. In January, the EU launched a formal investigation into whether Samsung is abusing the FRAND process.
The Dutch court’s ruling if a follow-up to a partial ruling issued last month. However, in a significant development, the court also ruled that Samsung cannot assert its standards-essential3G/UMTS patents against Apple’s recently-released iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4S implements the technology in chips manufactured by Qualcomm, and Qualcomm is already paying Samsung licensing fees for the technology. Therefore, Samsung cannot double-dip and demand Apple pay license fees for the same technology.
Samsung can still choose to appeal the ruling.
The ruling may prove to be significant for both Samsung’s broader legal battle with Apple—some of which involves the same 3G/UMTS technology patents in other countries, including the United States, Italy, France, and Germany—because it re-asserts the court’s position that Samsung cannot press to block sales of devices based on FRAND patents. That stance appears to be in line with the reasoning being pursued by the European Commission, and may mean that, even if Samsung were to win an infringement claim, any damages would be limited to licensing rates based on FRAND practices—which are far lower than the 2.5 percent of retail pricing Samsung is apparently seeking.
The ruling also effectively means that the court felt Samsung was pressing to block sales of competing products when it had not met its FRAND licensing obligations. That finding may complicate Samsung’s interaction with the EU investigation into its FRAND practices.
While Samsung has managed to defend itself successfully against some of Apple’s claims against it, to date the company has failed to win a victory in any of its infringement claims against Apple.