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Patent disputes

Samsung sued by ex-patent chief over IP infringement

The ex-Samsung executive represents a US company claiming Samsung violated 10 wireless tech patents

By Jan 10, 2022 (Gmt+09:00)

Samsung sued by ex-patent chief over IP infringement

A former vice president of Samsung Electronics Co., who led the South Korean tech giant's seven-year patent fight with Apple Inc., has sued his ex-employer over alleged violations of patents owned by a US earphone and audio equipment maker.

Ahn Seung-ho, founder and CEO of Synergy IP Pte based in Singapore, recently filed a lawsuit with a US district court in Texas, alleging that the world's largest memory chip and smartphone maker infringed on 10 patents held by Statern Tekiya LLC, according to Samsung and industry sources on Jan. 9.

The Delaware-based company is seeking compensation, which industry watchers estimate in the tens of millions of dollars, from Samsung.

Before resigning from Samsung in 2019, he served as vice president of intellectual property and external affairs for its active-matrix liquid crystal display business (AMLCD). 

Regarding the patents claimed by the US company, he was understood to have not engaged in the relevant technology development. 

The legal action took Samsung and other Korean conglomerates by surprise as it is unprecedented for an ex-senior Samsung executive with deep knowledge of the company's intellectual property (IP) rights to represent its competitor in a patent infringement case. 

GALAXY MOBILE PHONE SERIES

The US company argued that Samsung's popular mobile phone series of Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Buds illegally used its patented technologies without permission.

Specifically, Samsung was accused of violating a patent titled "Always on headwear recording system" and nine other patents in relation to wireless earphones and voice recognition technologies.

It also argued Samsung's voice assistant app, Bixby, introduced on the Galaxy S8 and S8+, violated its own patents.

Samsung sued by ex-patent chief over IP infringement

In response, Samsung said Ahn resigned in 2019 after reaching retirement age and there would be no reason for him to hold a grudge against the company.

But Samsung declined to make an official comment. Ahn was not immediately reached for comment.

The US patent attorney worked at Samsung's IP division from 1997 to 2019. During his tenure as division head since 2010, he spearheaded the company's headline-grabbing patent battles with Apple and China's Huawei Technologies Co. over smartphone design technologies and fourth-generation mobile communication standards, respectively.

Samsung ended the seven-year legal fight with Apple in 2018 without disclosing the settlement amount. The engineer-cum-US patent attorney also led Samsung's cross-licensing agreement with Google Inc. in 2014.

Ahn holds a JD degree from Santa Clara University in California and a doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the University of Illinois, according to the website of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Number of Samsung Electronics’ patents registered, by country

Graphics by Jerry Lee


Number of Samsung Electronics’ US-registered patents, by year

*As of third quarter 2021

Source: Samsung Electronics’ third-quarter reports

Graphics by Jerry Lee


Samsung holds a total of 211,160 patents registered worldwide as of the third quarter of 2021, including 82,000 patents granted by the US.

It has been in cross-licensing agreements with global tech giants such as Google Inc., Qualcomm Inc., Microsoft Corp., Apple and Huawei to avoid legal wrangling over their intellectual property rights.

Industry watchers say the lesser-known US company will find it difficult to prove violations of its patents at issue, given the similarity of patented voice recognition technologies in relation to earphones.

Separately, dozens of South Korean companies have filed invalidation lawsuits over wireless earphones and voice recognition technologies in US courts. 

Write to Shin-Young Park at nyusos@hankyung.com

Yeonhee Kim edited this article.
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