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April 3, 2012 at 8:56 AM

EU launches investigation into Motorola over patents

The European Commission has opened two antitrust investigations against Motorola Mobility, after complaints from Microsoft and Apple that Motorola is breaching its agreement to provide use of its industry-standard patented technologies at reasonable rates.

According to the EU Commission’s news release issued today:

The Commission will assess whether Motorola has abusively, and in contravention of commitments it gave to standard setting organisations, used certain of its standard essential patents to distort competition in the Internal Market in breach of EU antitrust rules. …

Following complaints by Apple and Microsoft, the Commission will investigate, in particular, whether by seeking and enforcing injunctions against Apple’s and Microsoft’s flagship products such as iPhone, iPad, Windows and Xbox on the basis of patents it had declared essential to produce standard-compliant products, Motorola has failed to honour its irrevocable commitments made to standard setting organisations.

This move comes amid heated battles over patents between Motorola and Google (which is acquiring Motorola) versus Microsoft and Apple.

Both Microsoft and Apple complained to the EU that 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.

Florian Mueller, an industry-property consultant who tracks tech patent issues and has been commissioned by Microsoft to conduct a study on FRAND patents, says in his blog: “The launch of formal investigations (as opposed to merely preliminary ones) is a key step that follows a reasonably thorough (even though only initial) assessment of the issues.”

The Associated Press reports that: “Asked whether the probe was also targeting Google, Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the Commission, said only that the investigation was focused on Motorola Mobility’s present and past behavior, adding that the merger between the two companies has not yet been concluded.”

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