European Union Probes Motorola in Patent War with Apple and Microsoft

Microsoft and Apple accuse Motorola Mobility of unfairly using its extensive patent portfolio to try to block competing products through court orders across the European Union, and by charging excessive licensing prices for essential patents.

The European Commission opened two antitrust investigations against Google's Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. (IW 1000: 344) following complaints from Apple Inc. (IW 1000: 48) and Microsoft Corp. (IW 1000: 51) in a patent war between the technology giants.

The E.U. competition watchdog said it will check whether Motorola abused a dominant market position on patents by seeking injunctions to stop Apple and Microsoft from selling their iPhone, iPad, Xbox and Windows products.

Microsoft and Apple accuse Motorola Mobility of unfairly using its extensive patent portfolio to try to block competing products through court orders across the European Union, and by charging excessive licensing prices for essential patents.

In February, E.U. and U.S. regulators cleared the acquisition of Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion (9.4 billion euros) by Google.

The battle is centered on standard essential patents (SEP) that technology companies must make available to rivals at a reasonable price because they are vital to the functioning of certain products.

Microsoft and Apple claim that Motorola Mobility is failing to live up to an industry pledge to license SEPs to rivals on so-called fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms.
Motorola made FRAND commitments to standard-setting organizations for 2G and 3G mobile and wireless telecommunications, H.264 video compression and WLAN technologies.

The commission said it will assess whether Motorola Mobility "has abusively, and in contravention of commitments it gave to standard-setting organizations, used certain of its standard essential patents to distort competition in the internal market in breach of E.U. antitrust rules."

It added: "The commission will examine whether Motorola's behavior amounts to an abuse of a dominant market position."

The European Union's executive arm said it also will assess allegations by Apple and Microsoft that "Motorola offered unfair licensing conditions for its standard-essential patents in breach" of antitrust rules.

Google, whose Android software is used by smartphone and tablet computer makers, acquired 17,000 patents with the purchase of the Illinois-based maker of mobile phones, tablet computers and television set-top boxes.

Announcing the acquisition in August, Google CEO Larry Page said it will "enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies."

European Commission spokesman Antoine Colombani said the investigation is looking into "past and current behavior" of Motorola but indicated it did not include Google since the acquisition has yet to be completed.

Brussels already opened in late January a similar case against South Korea's Samsung Electronics, which is embroiled in a multi-continent patent fight with Apple.

The European Commission is investigating whether the group went too far last year when it sought injunctions against mobile-device competitors in various E.U. national courts, alleging infringements of Samsung's patent rights.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

TAGS: Regulations
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