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Motorola Mobility in double Euro probe over patent warfare

Apple, Microsoft trigger antitrust investigation

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The European Commission's anti-competition division has opened two formal investigations into Motorola Mobility after complaints from Apple and Microsoft about how it uses its patents against them.

The commission said in a canned statement that it wants to figure out if Motorola Mobility has "abusively, and in contravention of commitments it gave to standard-setting organisations, used certain of its standard essential patents to distort competition in the internal market in breach of EU antitrust rules".

In particular, investigators want to assess if by trying to get injunctions against big Apple and Microsoft products like iPads and Xboxes on the basis of standards-essential patents, Motorola Mobility has gone back on its commitments to be fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND).

"Motorola gave such FRAND commitments to the relevant standard setting organisations, when the second and third generation ("2G" and "3G") mobile and wireless telecommunications system standards, the H.264 video compression standard and the standards for wireless local area network (WLAN) technologies were adopted," the commission said.

"In order to guarantee undistorted competition and to reap the positive economic effects of standardisation it is important that FRAND commitments be fully honoured by the companies concerned."

Motorola said that it would "work closely with the EC to resolve the matter".

"MMI is confident that a thorough investigation will demonstrate that it has honoured its FRAND obligations and complied with antitrust laws," the company said in an emailed statement.

Apple and Microsoft say Motorola Mobility has only offered unfair terms in the licensing deals it is required to broker, demanding far too much cash or too many of their patents in return for its intellectual property. Motorola Mobility maintains that Apple and others were offered agreements and yet refused them, so it had no choice but to sort things out in court. The EC said it would also be looking into these allegations.

It's interesting timing for the probe since Motorola and Microsoft are awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit the smartphone-maker brought against Redmond in Germany over patents for the H.264 video codec standard.

Microsoft, fearing Motorola could win an injunction against its software, has asked a US judge to intervene because such a banning order would unfairly impinge on a separate case in a Washington court, where Microsoft is seeking a worldwide licensing deal with Motorola.

And yesterday, Microsoft admitted it is shifting its European software distribution hub out of Germany and into The Netherlands, blaming Motorola for forcing its hand.

The antitrust probe joins the EC's investigation into Samsung, launched at the end of January this year, which is looking into the same issues of standards-essential patents and FRAND obligations. ®

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