EU probes Motorola Mobility's patent enforcement

Published April 3, 2012 11:00AM (EDT)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's competition watchdog on Tuesday opened two investigations into whether Motorola Mobility, which is being bought by Google, is unfairly restricting competitors from accessing essential patents.

The formal investigations were announced after Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. complained to the European Commission that Motorola Mobility was using injunctions against its rivals' key products — such as the iPhone, iPad or Xbox — as a way of gaining an edge in the market.

Motorola Mobility holds patents that are essential for standards linked to 2G and 3G mobile telecommunications, compressing video for online use, as well as wireless LAN technologies.

The Commission said it "will assess whether Motorola has abusively, and in contravention of commitments it gave to standard setting organizations, used certain of its standard essential patents to distort competition."

Under EU law, companies that hold patents for technologies that are essential for industry standards have to make these available to rivals at a fair price. Standards ensure that devices from different producers can interact seamlessly with widely used networks, technologies and each other.

In its complaint against Motorola Mobility, Microsoft claimed that the cell phone maker was demanding excessively high prices for using some of its key patents.

The Commission already issued a warning against Motorola Mobility's aggressive patent enforcement when it approved Google's acquisition of the cell phone maker in February. Google's $12.5 billion bid for Motorola Mobility would be the largest deal in the Californian company's history once it gets full regulatory approval. The U.S. also cleared the deal in February, but it still needs approval from China.

The Commission has increased its scrutiny of suspected abuse of standard-essential patents especially among technology companies in recent months. It already launched a probe into the behavior of Samsung, which has also been involved in a worldwide patent battle with Apple.

By Salon Staff

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