EU May Step In to Solve Apple, Microsoft Patent Dispute Against Motorola

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European antitrust authorities may investigate a resolution regarding patent disputes filed by Apple and Microsoft against Motorola, after both claimants have asked for help in concluding the matter, which might ultimately lead to hefty fines for Google.

In February, Microsoft claimed that Motorola was charging too much for the patents used in its products, calling it unfair, and presented the case to the European Commission. Apple had likewise went to the Commission, accusing Motorola of reneging on a promise to license patents critical to their industry on “fair and reasonable” (FRAND) terms.

Google, which is in the process of acquiring Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, said it will license Motorola patents in question in FRAND terms after the deal closes, but until then has no handle on any impropriety committed by that company.

With this, EU Competition Commission Joaquin Almunia stated he will “consider” whether European antitrust laws have been broken, which could lead to a fine of up to 10% of Motorola's annual profit, which basically means that if the EU sides with Apple and Microsoft, Google might have to pay tens of billions of dollars in fines.

Almunia stated, “I am considering whether we need to investigate these complaints formally to help bring more clarity into this area of competition control. The holders of standard-essential patents have considerable market power. This market power can be used to harm competition."

Since Microsoft and Motorola engaged in a patent suit in Germany, the software giant opted to move its German office to the Netherlands, due to the legal matters, and will cut 50 jobs in the process. Germany has become a sort of battleground for patent wars, beginning in April, 2011, when Apple first filed suit against Samsung.

FOSS Patents author Florian Mueller explains:

“I regret to say that certain developments in patent enforcement have really turned Germany into a dangerous location for business, a problem that other high-tech companies, such as Apple, are also experiencing. Standard-essential patents are lethal weapons, a fact that Motorola proudly highlighted to the Mannheim court by saying that such patents are like bullets in a gun: “it takes only one bullet to kill“. Once a patented invention becomes a mandatory part of a standard, the patent can no longer be engineered around. A country in which such patents can be easily abused to win injunctions is not an advisable place for a European distribution operation.”

It would appear things might get a little rough for Google.

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