European Commission Investigating Motorola over Alleged Patent Abuse

Motorola Mobility, the mobile phone manufacturer recently acquired by internet behemoth Google, is currently subject to two separate investigations by the European Commission following complaints by Microsoft and Apple. Concerns have been raised that Motorola is abusing its dominant market position in the way it has conducted matters relating to standards-essential patents.

Patents which are essential to a standard must be licensed on a FRAND basis (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory). A standard in this context would typically involve a technology used across an industry and not a particular product or line of products. Apple and Microsoft have asserted that Motorola attempted to licence its standards-essential patents on unfair terms, in contravention of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

Motorola Mobility owns over 17,000 patents and many commentators have speculated that Google’s acquisition of the company was influenced, at least in part, by its desire to protect its Android mobile operating system against patent infringement claims by boosting its patent portfolio. The claims by Apple and Microsoft relate to the iPhone, iPad and Xbox games console.

An abuse of a company’s dominant market position can occur in a number of ways, such as imposing purchase or selling prices which are deemed to be unfair, applying different conditions to similar transactions and limiting production which prejudices consumers.

Separately, Korean mobile phone manufacturer Samsung is also subject to an investigation looking into whether it has attempted to licence its 3G mobile and wireless technology patents to rivals on non-FRAND terms.

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