[Updated 7:17 a.m.: Microsoft has made a change to the wording of its blog post, adding that the complaint it filed with the EC is against Google as well as Motorola. This post has been modified to reflect that.
Updated 9:41 a.m. with Google statement at end.]
Microsoft has filed a competition complaint against Motorola Mobility and Google with the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union.
In an official blog post today, Dave Heiner, a Microsoft vice president and deputy general counsel, wrote:
We have taken this step because Motorola is attempting to block sales of Windows PCs, our Xbox game console and other products. Their offense? These products enable people to view videos on the Web and to connect wirelessly to the Internet using industry standards.
Microsoft’s complaint is the latest move in an ongoing, global battle among tech companies over patents. Apple, too, has filed a complaint against Motorola Mobility over the same issue.
The dispute is particularly significant now because Google has won approval from the EU and the U.S. in its bid to acquire Motorola Mobility — and its stash of more than 17,000 patents.
Both Microsoft and Apple contend Motorola is not adhering to agreements to license its patents under reasonable terms. The central issue is over something called “standard essential patents” (SEP) — patents owned by private companies that involve technologies that have become standard use in the industry. Companies that hold such patents agree, as part of joining international standards groups, to license them under “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) terms.
As Microsoft’s Heiner put it in his blog post:
You probably take for granted that you can view videos on your smartphone, tablet, PC, or DVD/Blu-ray player and connect to the Internet without being tied to a cable. That works because the industry came together years ago to define common technical standards that every firm can use to build compatible products for video and Wi-Fi. Motorola and all the other firms that contributed to these standards also made a promise to one another: that if they had any patents essential to the standards, they would make their patents available on fair and reasonable terms, and would not use them to block competitors from shipping their products.
Motorola has broken its promise. Motorola is on a path to use standard essential patents to kill video on the Web, and Google as its new owner doesn’t seem to be willing to change course.
Florian Mueller, an industry-property consultant who’s been tracking tech patent issues for years and has been commissioned by Microsoft to conduct a study on FRAND patents, says in his blog today:
With two industry leaders complaining about MMI’s alleged abuse of FRAND-pledged, standard-essential patents, the prospects of formal investigations have certainly increased. … European regulators are already investigating Samsung’s related conduct, which is largely consistent with what MMI is doing in Europe. When the Commission cleared Google’s proposed acquisition of MMI last week, it stressed that it did not “bless all actions by Motorola in the past […] with regard to the use of [its] standard essential patents”.
We have a request in to Motorola for comment and will update if we hear back.
[Update 9:41 a.m.: Google has issued the following statement: “Microsoft’s complaint is just another example of their attempts to use the regulatory process to attack competitors. It’s particularly ironic given their track record in this area and collaboration with patent trolls.”]