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EU competition chief threatens patent war smackdown

Tough-talking Almunia will take mobile giants to task

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European anti-competition chief Joaquin Almunia has warned that the EU won't stand for any messing about with technology standards-related patents.

Almunia, giving a speech today at the Concurrences conference in Paris, said that he was prepared to use the EU's enforcement measures, such as fines of up to 10 per cent of a biz's global turnover, to make his point.

"Standardisation processes must be fair and transparent, so that they are not in the hands of established firms willing to impose their technologies. But it is not enough. We must also ensure that, once they hold standard essential patents, companies give effective access on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms," Almunia said.

"I am determined to use antitrust enforcement to prevent the misuse of patent rights to the detriment of a vigorous and accessible market. I have initiated investigations on this issue in several sectors and we will see the results in due time."

The EU has already announced a formal investigation of Samsung for misuse of essential patents in its European battles with Apple over smartphones and fondleslabs.

In the last few months, Google, Apple and Microsoft have all given promises to behave when it comes to standards patents, though they all seem to have left themselves a little wiggle-room.

Essential patents relate to industry standards, such as 3G for mobiles. They're supposed to be open to everyone to license relatively easily and cheaply so that new businesses can have a chance to enter the market.

"It is a major task of competition control to ensure that new generations of businesses are given a fair chance," Almunia said in his speech. ®

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