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U.S. trade agency to probe Ericsson patent claims against Samsung

Patent claims

U.S. trade agency to probe Ericsson patent claims against Samsung

The U.S. International Trade Commission has decided to investigate whether to grant Ericsson's request for an import ban against Samsung Electronics Co., putting further pressure on the South Korean consumer-electronics giant in the continuing patent battle.

The Swedish mobile network maker last month asked the ITC to ban imports of Samsung products into the U.S., after Samsung has continued to sell its products before reaching a new patent-licensing agreement with the Swedish company. Samsung says it has tried to negotiate with Ericsson on a new deal but has failed due to the "extreme demands" put forward by Ericsson. The ITC complaint stems from lawsuit that Ericsson filed in November against Samsung in a U.S. federal court in Texas for allegedly infringing a number of its mobile-technology patents.

The decision by the ITC to investigate Ericsson's request for an import ban was made on Thursday, a spokesman for Ericsson said Friday. Ericsson estimates that the ITC investigation could take more than one year.

In a statement, the ITC said it would assign the case to one of its six administrative law judges, who then will schedule and hold an evidentiary hearing on the case. Within 45 days after institution of the investigation, the trade agency is due to set a target date for completing the investigation.

Samsung didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The telecom industry has seen a rash of patent disputes over the past years. Several of the continuing suits relate to so-called standard essential patents, which protect inventions that are incorporated into broader technologies used throughout the industry.

According to the Texas court filings, Ericsson says Samsung is seeking to drastically reduce the fee it pays Ericsson to license these kinds of patents. Ericsson has said all licensees should pay fees for its standard essential patents on the same terms. Samsung, on the other hand, has said Ericsson's licensing fees are too high.

Ericsson said in the lawsuit that Samsung has sold "hundreds of millions of unlicensed cellular handsets, smartphones, tablet computers, and televisions" since its agreement with Ericsson expired in 2011. These include the flagship Galaxy S III smartphone, which has sold more than 30 million units since it was introduced in May.

Samsung previously signed two large cross-licensing agreements with Ericsson, the first in 2001 and later in 2007. The latest of the licensing agreements expired in 2011, and two years of negotiations have failed to reach a new deal.

As part of the November suit, Ericsson has called for the Texas court to impose an injunction against all Samsung products that allegedly infringe Ericsson's patents, potentially pulling Samsung products from U.S. store shelves if Ericsson wins the case.

(Published by WSJ - January 4, 2013)

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