Following the launch of Apple Inc.'s first long-term evolution (LTE) phone, eyes are focused on whether Samsung Electronics Co. will take legal action to bring the two top smartphone makers' global patent war to a new stage, market watchers said Thursday.
Apple unveiled the iPhone 5 at a long-awaited launch event in San Fransisco on Wednesday, pitting its latest iPhone against Samsung's extensive LTE line-up amid ongoing patent tussles between the two companies.
Samsung and Apple have been locked in a high-stakes patent war over design and technology patents since April 2011 in an attempt to rule the US$219 billion global smartphone market.
Speculation is running high that the South Korean firm may use its bigger chest of LTE patents and a wider array of LTE phones to counter Apple.
In the first half, Samsung was the No. 1 LTE standard patent holder at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), with 819 patents, or 12.7 percent of the total, according to a study by the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO). In contrast, Apple entered the top 10 list for the first time this year.
Despite widespread rumors, the Korean company has remained tight-lipped on the issue. A Samsung spokesman who was contacted after the iPhone 5 launch declined to comment on the issue.
Some, however, raise views Samsung is likely to strike back. Samsung Electronics filed for sales ban injunctions with courts in Milan and Paris 15 hours after the iPhone 4S launch.
Apple's recent move to add the latest Samsung products, including the Galaxy S3 phone, to its list of copycat products also raised views Samsung may do teh same with the iPhone 5.
Samsung's IT and mobile unit chief Shin Jong-kyun's recent comments further spurred such speculations.
"We have several cards, such as LTE patents," Shin told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday.
"But we are cautious since (Samsung) has business ties with Apple in the component sector," he said, citing the love-hate relationship between the two companies. Samsung is one of Apple's biggest component suppliers, while Apple is one of Samsung's biggest clients.
Despite brewing speculations, Apple's growing LTE patent clout and patent exhaustion issues signal that adding LTE patents to the smartphone war may not be a shrewd move for Samsung.
The KIPO study showed that Apple, which did not own any LTE standard patents in 2011, has recently built up a collection of around 420 LTE patents, including those owned by patent enforcement firm Rockstar Bidco, in which Apple holds a majority stake.
Furthermore, Samsung is likely to face patent exhaustion issues, as it is in licensing agreements with companies such as Qualcomm Inc. that supply chips to Apple.
Market watchers also note that lodging a fight with LTE standard patents may be a futile attempt.
"I would strongly discourage Samsung from trying to use 4G/LTE-essential patents to shut down the iPhone 5. It won't improve Samsung's position. It will only make things worse, especially with antitrust regulators," patent expert Florian Mueller wrote on his blog.
Mueller recommended Samsung instead sue for royalties over standard essential patents, rather than opting for injunctions. (Yonhap)