Apple complains to EC over Motorola's patent tactics

The European Commission is looking into a complaint from Apple that Motorola is in breach of its commitments around the FRAND terms of key patents

Apple has complained to the EU's antitrust authorities about Motorola Mobility's tactics in enforcing patents it holds that are essential to building standards-based mobile devices.

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Apple has complained to the European Commission that Motorola is enforcing its standards-essential patents in breach of its FRAND commitments. Image credit: James Martin/CNET News

Motorola revealed the complaint on Friday in a US regulatory filing, and the European Commission said on Monday it plans to examine it carefully. 

"On 17 February, 2012, [Motorola] received a letter from the European Commission, Competition Directorate-General... notifying it that the Commission has received a complaint against Motorola Mobility... by Apple," Motorola said in the 10-K filing.

According to the document, Apple is accusing Motorola of enforcing its standards-essential patents against Apple in a way that is "allegedly in breach of MMI's FRAND commitments". There is no further detail on the complaint in Motorola's filing, but it will almost certainly be related to the mobile patent dispute between the two companies.

Motorola, which has been in the mobile game more or less since the industry was born, has thousands of patents that are essential to cellular technologies such as 3G.

Such patents are usually licensed under what are known as fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. These conditions ensure that the patent holder cannot charge an excessive amount for licensing the patents, and must charge all its rivals the same royalty fee.

Royalty rate

Motorola has been trying to charge Apple and other companies a royalty rate of 2.25 percent of the device net sale price — that is, the price of the whole smartphone or tablet, rather than just the component that uses the patent. Google, which is in the process of buying Motorola, has said it intends to maintain this approach.

Apple says the percentage is unacceptable, and has argued that Motorola should not be able to sue it or anyone else for using a FRAND-protected patent. Motorola has already filed suit against Apple over infringement of standards-essential patents in Germany, and earlier this month it succeeded in briefly getting some iPad and iPhone models taken off Apple's online store.

Apple has itself sued Motorola as well, though not over standards-essential patents.

The European Commission is already investigating Samsung over its alleged abuse of FRAND-protected patents. Although Samsung has also been engaged in a global legal tussle with Apple over its intellectual property, the Commission has said its probe into Samsung's tactics is not the result of any one company's complaint.

ZDNet UK has asked the Commission whether it intends to proceed with a formal investigation into Motorola or fold its enquiries into the existing Samsung case, but the Commission declined to comment at this point.

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