By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics is in early talks with the EU regulator to settle charges that its use of injunctions against arch rival Apple breached antitrust rules, two people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
Samsung and Apple, the world's top two smartphone makers by volume and sales, are embroiled in patent disputes in at least 10 countries as they vie to dominate the lucrative and fast-growing mobile market and win customers with their latest gadgets.
The talks came after the European Commission, which acts as EU competition regulator, told Samsung in December that it was acting unfairly by seeking court injunctions against Apple over the use of its patents.
"Samsung has been involved in settlement discussions for several months now. Samsung wants to settle," said one of the sources, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The sources said it was still too early to say if the discussions would result in a settlement. That would mean no finding of wrongdoing for Samsung and no fine, which could otherwise reach as much as $17.3 billion if the South Korean firm is found to be in breach of EU laws.
Both the European Commission and Samsung declined to comment.
Samsung came under EU regulatory fire last year when it began seeking injunctions in various EU countries in 2011 against Apple's use of its patents for the 3G UMTS standard despite pledging to license them on fair terms to rivals.
Asked why Samsung was seeking to settle instead of fighting the charges, Mario Mariniello, an analyst at think-tank Bruegel and a former Commission economist, said it was possible the company thought the regulator had built up a strong enough case against it.
"The Commission could construct a theory of harm based on the concept of a willing licensee, in which Apple was willing to pay but Samsung didn't negotiate," he said. "This would make it possible for it to sanction (punish) something that is contrary to competition law."
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Pravin Char)