Europe to keep 'anti-troll' eye on Nokia patent licensing after Microsoft sale

Nokia's rivals fear that the company will begin unfairly milking its patent portfolio, according to the European Commission, but the organisation will be closely observing the former handset maker.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Europe's competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia has issued a light warning to Nokia that the EC will investigate the company if it finds the company abusing its trove of mobile patents.

Europe last week approved Microsoft's €5.4bn takeover of Nokia's devices business, amid fears from rivals that Nokia — which will retain around 30,000 patents — will begin putting the thumbscrews on old competitors over licensing.

"Since Nokia will retain its patent portfolio, some have claimed that the sale of the unit would give the company the incentive to extract higher returns from this portfolio," Almunia said in Paris yesterday.

Almunia dismissed those claims during its merger assessment since it only looked into the anticompetitive impact Microsoft could have following its acquisition. However, he reiterated that he would be keeping an eye on Nokia for any signs of illegal behaviour.

"If Nokia were to take illegal advantage of its patents in the future, we will open an antitrust case — but I sincerely hope we will not have to," he said.

Last week Almunia said the commission would closely monitor Nokia's post-merger licensing practises, focusing on whether the company violates Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) that prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position.

Nokia has made no secret of its intention to capitalise on its patents business following the sale of devices to Microsoft. The company will manage its patent portfolio under its new Advanced Technologies unit, one of three strands to the new business, alongside NSN and Here maps. Nokia claims to currently bring in around €500m a year in patent licensing revenue.

Canadian wireless vendor Sierra Networks last month accused Nokia of charging unfair royalties for its standards essential mobile patents and requested the EU investigate the matter. Nokia described the complaints as frivolous.

However, the EU has more pressing concerns over Samsung's and Motorola's use of injunctions over standards essential patents and recent commitments by the companies to stop employing the tactic.

Almunia yesterday suggested Samsung may need to revise its "market-tested" proposals "not to enjoin companies which are willing to have the dispute settled by a court or arbitrator".

"We have market-tested these commitments and will take account of the feedback when we discuss with Samsung possible improvements to their commitments in the coming weeks," Almunia said.

"To repeat and to put it very simply, I believe that injunctions should not be available when there is a willing licensee.

"Ideally, this principle should be implemented by the standard-setting organisations themselves. But since that is not happening, I am willing to provide clarity to the market through competition enforcement."

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