USITC parachutes into Ericsson, Samsung patent cross-fire

The United States International Trade Commission (USITC), which describes itself as an independent and quasi-judicial federal agency, has said it will follow up on a patent-infringement complaint made to it by Ericsson against Samsung.

On January 15, the Sweden-based supplier filed a notice with the USITC claiming that the South Korean behemoth was importing 4G and 5G kit into the US that infringed its patents. Reuters reports that the extent of Ericsson's complaint stretches across antennas, basestations and core networks.

The USITC has now announced it will launch an investigation into the matter. If things go its way, and the complaint is upheld, Ericsson reckons there'll be "no disruption of already established cellular networks." Samsung's US unit has reportedly provided "thousands of 5G base stations" to operators, including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

For its part, Samsung says Ericsson has not come up with any "factual support" to back up its claims.

The USITC emphasized it had not yet made any decision on the merits of the case, although it is to make a final determination "at the earliest practicable time." Within 45 days after starting the investigation, the USITC said it will set a target date for completing its enquiries.

One of many salvos

Patent acrimony between Ericsson and Samsung has been building up for some months now, with the USITC investigation the latest in a series of legal moves and counter moves.

Ericsson sued Samsung in a US District Court in Texas last month, with allegations of patent infringement. Also in January, Samsung filed a complaint of its own with the USITC, which aimed to block US imports of Ericsson's 5G kit amid disagreements over the terms of patent-licensing renewals.

In December, Ericsson accused Samsung of not playing ball in the renewal of patent licenses by "violating contractual commitments to negotiate in good faith." According to Ericsson, Samsung is not adhering to so-called FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.

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Ericsson thought that the whole imbroglio, when taking into account potential costs of litigation and delayed royalty payments, could impact quarterly operating income by between SEK1 billion (US$118 million) and SEK1.5 billion ($177 million), starting in the first quarter this year.

The two companies have form when it comes to patent disputes. Ericsson took legal action against Samsung as far back as 2012 over alleged patent infringements. The matter was settled two years later when Samsung coughed up $650 million and made good on royalty arrears.

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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