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EU antitrust bods: Motorola, Samsung too dominant to take on poor little Apple

Lawsuits using standards-essential patents are out - EC

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Motorola and Samsung have escaped with a stern finger-wagging from the EU after using standards-essential patents (SEP) to stop the sale of Apple devices in Europe.

The European Commission’s antitrust division said that Moto’s attempt to enforce an injunction on Apple gear based on a smartphone SEP was “an abuse of a dominant position” and was prohibited by anti-competition laws.

EC competition regulators also accepted commitments from Samsung that it wouldn’t try to ban competing smartphones and tablets on the basis of SEPs, so long as the potential licensee was signed up to the specified licensing framework.

"The so-called smartphone patent wars should not occur at the expense of consumers,” competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement. “This is why all industry players must comply with the competition rules.

“Our decision on Motorola, together with today's decision to accept Samsung's commitments, provides legal clarity on the circumstances in which injunctions to enforce standard essential patents can be anti-competitive.

“While patent holders should be fairly remunerated for the use of their intellectual property, implementers of such standards should also get access to standardised technology on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. It is by preserving this balance that consumers will continue to have access to a wide choice of interoperable products,” he added.

Although the commission found that Moto had breached EU law when it forced some older models of iDevices off the shelves of its online store in Germany after a ruling in Mannheim on an SEP, it managed to avoid a fine. The EU has no case law on the legality of actions over this kind of patent and “national courts have so far reached diverging conclusions”, the commission said.

However, a Motorola settlement where the firm wrongly forced Apple to give up its right to challenge the validity of the patents or whether its products were infringing by threatening an injunction was also deemed illegal and the commission ordered Moto to get rid of the “anti-competitive clauses”.

Motorola, Samsung and other telecoms firms have started bringing SEP into court decisions as they scramble for a long-lasting seat in the lucrative mobile market. The US is also looking into of using these patents in court battles and the EU opened its formal probe into Motorola early in 2012, after complaints from both Apple and Microsoft.

Later the same year, it started to look at Samsung’s attempts to seek injunctions on Apple products on the basis of its own SEPs.

To avoid any sanctions, Samsung has committed to avoid using SEPs to seek bans for the next five years. Instead, courts or arbitrators will be able to rule on the terms that are fair and reasonable to license Sammy patents in the event of a dispute. ®

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