The European Commission announced today that it will formally investigate whether Samsung Electronics has broken EU antitrust rules in the European mobile device market by refusing to fairly license wireless patents essential to the 3G standard. At the heart of the matter is Samsung's promise in 1998 to license essential patents for 3G mobile telephony on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) basis. The commission issued the following statement:

"In 2011, Samsung sought injunctive relief in various Member States' courts against competing mobile device makers based on alleged infringements of certain of its patent rights which it has declared essential to implement European mobile telephony standards. The Commission will investigate, in particular, whether in doing so Samsung has failed to honour its irrevocable commitment given in 1998 to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to license any standard essential patents relating to European mobile telephony standards on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. The Commission will examine whether such behaviour amounts to an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU)."

Samsung has attempted to enforce a number of 3G patents against Apple recently. The company lost two key cases in Germany this month, and FOSS Patents points out that the European Commission could be acting before Samsung wins a ruling based on one of the patents and enforces it. Apple has claimed it didn't receive a patent offer from Samsung until after the company sued the iPhone maker. The exact terms of the offer have not been made public, but Apple classified it as "manifestly not FRAND." The formal investigation follows a request for information from EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia last year.