The European Commission today announced that it has opened an investigation into Samsung's use of certain patents to distort competition in European mobile device markets, according to a press release.

At the heart of the probe is a commitment Samsung made back in 1998 to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to license the patents in question. As part of its commitment, Samsung is required 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 Samsung withheld the patents and if such behavior amounts to an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), which requires the owners of patents that are essential for the implementation of a standard to commit to license these patents on FRAND terms.

Such commitments were given to ETSI by many patent holders, including Samsung, when 3G mobile and wireless telecom system standards were adopted in Europe.

The commission notes that in 2011, Samsung sought injunctions in various European courts against competing mobile device makers based on alleged infringements of certain patents, which the commission has declared "essential" to implement European mobile telephony standards.

Samsung was unavailable for comment prior to press time.

The move by the European Commission comes as Samsung and Apple are embroiled in ongoing patent disputes, in a number of countries, over similarities between Apple's iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab line of slates. A German court has ordered an injunction in Germany on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy Tab 8.9, which the court says are too similar to the iPad.