updated 08:10 am EDT, Tue April 3, 2012
EU antitrust investigations start over Motorola
The European Commission quickly acted on earlier hints on Tuesday and formally started two antitrust investigations versus Motorola. The two pursuits will look into whether Motorola was abusing its standards-based patents against Apple and Microsoft. The claims would check whether Motorola was trying to squeeze Apple over 2G and 3G licenses for iPads and iPhones, as well as similar tactics over H.264 video in Windows 7 and the Xbox 360.
Concerns were mounting at the EU agency that Motorola wasn't honoring its pledge to offer fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) patent licenses, and was instead using the standards as weapons against Apple and Microsoft. Both of Motorola's targets have complained of a 2.25 percent total device royalty that's well above most other licenses, going as high as 100 to 1,000 times larger in Microsoft's case.
The investigation follows one launched against Samsung in January and shows the Commission hoping to discourage European courts, particularly those in Germany, from letting companies sue over standards patents with loose definitions of what constitutes making a fair demand in advance. While Apple and Microsoft have both been primarily on the offensive against Android, they have avoided using standards where Motorola and Samsung have been relying on them almost exclusively as a defense. The choice has Motorola and Samsung more vulnerable, and could see most of their European lawsuits dismantled if the EU investigations lead to formal accusations.
The investigation also wounds Google in particular. Although the EU approved its acquisition of Motorola, the clearance was conducted independently of Motorola's actions in court and could see Google inherit a company both without a substantial patent case and with possible legal sanctions. Google has publicly endorsed Motorola's tactics in court and could face embarrassment if it's found to have backed actions that were later deemed illegal.