EU may quiz Apple, Microsoft vs. Motorola in antitrust dispute

EU may quiz Apple, Microsoft vs. Motorola in antitrust dispute

Summary: Europe could step in to solve more patent disputes, as Microsoft and Apple respectively gang up against Motorola over claims its licensing of patents is unfair.

SHARE:

The big wigs of the technology could be in for a rocky battle with European antitrust authorities, as it mulls a possible investigation to resolve the patent dispute between Apple and Microsoft against Motorola Mobility.

To date, both Microsoft and Apple have come close to ceding their respective fights with Motorola over patents, and asked Europe to step in to resolve the matter.

But with that resolution could come hefty fines, which could result in Google ultimately picking up the bill.

So far --- for a much-needed recap:

In February, Microsoft presented a case to the European Commission claiming Motorola Mobility was charging too much for the patents used in its products, calling it unfair and anti-competitive.

Apple had also complained to the Commission about Motorola's patents, discovered in a recent filing by to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, saying that Motorola had gone back on a promise to license patents critical to the industry on a "fair and reasonable" (FRAND) terms.

Google, which is about to close the deal on a $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility, said as part of the European regulator investigation into the merger that it will license these patents on these FRAND terms once the deal closes.

However, until that happens, Google can't control what Motorola does, and until it inherits the company, Google's hands are clean of any impropriety.

In the meantime, the Commission opened an antitrust investigation into Samsung to discover whether it "abusively" distorted or hampered competition in Europe over licensing of these critical industry-standard patents.

Keeping up?

Because of all this, the EU Competition Commission Joaquin Almunia said he will "consider" whether these companies are breaching European antitrust law, which could lead to a fine up to 10 percent of a company's global annual turnover.

In other words, if Europe sides with Microsoft and Apple respectively or collectively, Motorola could be fined possibly into the tens of billions of U.S. dollars.

"I am considering whether we need to investigate these complaints formally to help bring more clarity into this area of competition control," Almunia said in Washington. "The holders of standard-essential patents have considerable market power. This market power can be used to harm competition," reports Reuters.

But the complex three-way dispute doesn't stop there.

Microsoft and Motorola are engaged in a heavy patent suit in Germany, now the main battleground for patent wars in the world, with dozens of cases being fought since Apple --- arguably --- kicked things off in April 2011 with its suit against Samsung.

The Windows and Office maker is even relocating its German base to the Netherlands in a bid to get out of the patent crossfire, in which 100 jobs could be affected. A Deutsche Presse Agentur [German] report stated that legal concerns are the only reason for the move.

FOSS Patents author Florian Mueller wraps it up:

"I regret to say that certain developments in patent enforcement have really turned Germany into a dangerous location for business, a problem that other high-tech companies, such as Apple, are also experiencing.

Standard-essential patents are lethal weapons, a fact that Motorola proudly highlighted to the Mannheim court by saying that such patents are like bullets in a gun: "it takes only one bullet to kill". Once a patented invention becomes a mandatory part of a standard, the patent can no longer be engineered around. A country in which such patents can be easily abused to win injunctions is not an advisable place for a European distribution operation."

He makes a very valid point.

Image credit: Alberto Novi, ALDE/Flickr.

Related:

Topics: Patents, Apple, Google, Legal, Microsoft, Mobility, Samsung, Security, EU

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

7 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • what goes around comes around

    Apple, Microsoft and Oracle gang up against Google and companies in Open source arena in the past. Now Google learned the game and now marching towards mastering it. It purchased strategic companies such as Motorola and acquired patents from IBM.

    Now fearing checkmate, Microsoft and Apple are using their lobbying with political establishment to open various investigations against Google and its partners. It started with case against Google for its monopoly over search engine. Now they are crying out about unfair patents. Ask sat-nav company tom-tom how they felt when they had to cough up phony MS patents against Linux.
    p.vinnie@...
    • LOL! Fearing checkmate?

      The fact that the EU is stepping in to look at this adds some backup to the assertion that Motorola could very well be in the wrong.

      But then MS could just jack up the licenising of the patents that Motorola uses to interact with Windows based machines, and this would be OK, right?
      William Farrel
    • ...err...no it doesn't...

      Please explain where Apple, Microsoft and Oracle, ganged-up against Google and the open source community, in the past?
      Otherwise, go and do some reading about the difference between SEP and non-SEP patents before asserting that Google are '...marching towards mastering it'. This is an argument about whether Motorola(and Samsung) have the right to claim ~2.25% for the use of one SEP when there are thousands of such patents contained in one standard and which are supposed to be available on FRAND licensing terms - usually in the range $0.05 to 0.10 per device.
      frogspaw
      • Google has won

        Microsoft/Apple invented nothing ever. The Android companies combined invented every single piece of technology being used by smartphones and tablets. The Android companies don't need to charge heavy patent licencing for their inventions, in fact the Android companies want a free open ecosystem for anyone to use. Microsoft/Apple are sore losers and do not want to give up their dreams of controlling proprietary monopoly over the market, ergo they are stupid enough to think that they can sue Android for being open source. Android has already won, not even a corrupt EU can stop Android from dominating the world. Microsoft/Apple are finished.
        charbax@...
    • what goes? certainly isn't Frand patents...

      "Now fearing checkmate" uhhh, calling frand patents "mastering" the process is well... naive.... as everyone is finding out, acquiring Motorola for it's patents just wasted $12 billion dollars, because Moto's patents are worthless, the frand patents are not enforceable (beyond normal small licensing fees) except in Germany, and soon the EU will even overrule the German system of not honoring frand.

      so Google not only has wasted $12 billion dollars, it has no defense now against all the patents/copyrights it violated when it literally copied java line per code line, and the iPhone OS in all of the multi touch screen functions Google added to Android after Eric saw the iPhone come together...

      not looking good for Google and Android which will soon have to license to Oracle for every handset made by the dozens of manufacturers. (and who knows what Apple will get)
      honkj
  • @Zack

    'Google, which is about to close the deal on a $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility, said as part of the European regulator investigation into the merger that it will license these patents on these FRAND terms once the deal closes.'
    Actually, no they didn't give any such commitment. What they actually said was that they would seek to enforce the Motorola extortion model of licensing ie 2.25% of the cost per device. This is not the usual FRAND low cost scheme.
    Hence the investigation by the EU commission.
    Do you even understand the concept of Fair Reasonable and Non Descriminatory?
    frogspaw
  • if you had any more false statements in there, it could be baker dozen...

    ------------------------------------
    However, until that happens, Google cant control what Motorola does, and until it inherits the company, Googles hands are clean of any impropriety.
    ------------------------------------

    Your headline makes it look like the EU is investigating both Apple and MSFT?, which is false...

    Google's hands are NOT clean, the EU has a separate Antitrust investigation going on for Google, so that statement is false...

    and your statement that Google would license under "frand" is not only false it is laughable at best... asking for 2.25% of the cost for the entire device is not only ridiculous, it is insulting to the Frand origins, (which is what Google has offered) which by the way is the same as Motorola has asked for, AND is being investigated for..... so that statement is not only false it is as close to being fraudulent as one can get.

    why are you apparently eager to mislead like that?
    honkj