EU Kicks Motorola While It's Down, Opens Official Antitrust Proceedings
April 3, 2012 9:10 AM
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The next step in this process is typically a billion dollar fine
It has been a pretty bad week for new Google Inc. (
and top Android phonemaker Motorola Mobility. On Monday it learned that a senior U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge had ruled that Apple essentially has
an exclusive patent on any functional mobile touch device
(any device with error checking or "heuristics", as Apple calls it) until 2028. The ruling clears the way for Apple to potentially ban all Motorola U.S. handset sales.
Now to add insult to injury, the European Union has
that it is opening proceedings against Motorola for FRAND patent abuse, following an initial probe phase.
against Microsoft Corp. (
) and Intel Corp. (
) have resulted in
billion dollar fines
Following complaints by Apple and Microsoft, the Commission will investigate, in particular, whether by seeking and enforcing injunctions against Apple's and Microsoft's flagship products such as iPhone, iPad, Windows and Xbox on the basis of patents it had declared essential to produce standard-compliant products, Motorola has failed to honour its irrevocable commitments made to standard setting organisations. In these commitments, Motorola engaged to license those standard-essential patents on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. The Commission will examine whether Motorola's behaviour amounts to an abuse of a dominant market position prohibited by Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).
Motorola is between a rock and a hard place here. On the one hand some nations -- including the U.S. -- are about
ready to ban its handsets
thanks to very vague and broad interface patents granted to Apple. On the other hand, Motorola's patent library is largely tied up in mobile standards -- patents that have mandatory licensing under the "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" (FRAND).
It's been a very bad week for Android phonemaker Motorola. [Image Source: Jack Agency]
Motorola gambled and sued Apple using its FRAND IP anyways; Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (
) -- another top Android phonemaker -- made a similar move. While one might think these suits to be reasonable, on the premise that that it's impossible to have "fair" and "reasonable" licensing with a company that's trying to remove you from the market with punitive patent litigation, the
EU court system does not see it that way
Both Microsoft (
also sued by Motorola Mobility
) and Apple filed EU complaints against Motorola over alleged FRAND abuse. Microsoft's attorneys accused Motorola of asking for 1,125 times the industry standard for its video codec patents.
filed a similar allegation
against Samsung (Samsung
agreed to license Microsoft's patents
). The EU has not announced yet whether it will open formal proceedings against Samsung.
But to all appearances the worst-case scenario just became a whole lot worse for Android. While it still has legal options to avoid such a doomsday scenario, the worst case is it could see itself banned from sale in the U.S., while two of the top Android phonemakers are forced by the EU to pay billion dollar fines.
This is a very wild and chaotic time in the market (and intellectual property). It should be interesting, if a bit disturbing, to see how this all plays out.
EU [press release]
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
4/3/2012 10:25:26 AM
There is a difference between Apple and Motorola's actions.
Irrespective of whether you approve of Apple's actions or not, or whether you think their patents are spurious or not, it is a fact that Apple is suing on the basis of patents which are not being offered on licence.
Motorola voluntarily chose to offer a range of patents for license with the explicit aim that they become part of industry standards and thus generate continuos income for Motorola. This meant those patents were offered on a license with a binding commitment that they would always be available on a fair and nondiscriminatory basis. Motorola is now reneging on that commitment and breaking it's FRAND commitments and acting in a discriminatory way. I fail to see how they ever thought that they would succeed in such a legally dubious and flimsy manoeuvre.
The reason Motorola is between a rock and hard place is because in the modern and booming smart phone market they cannot run a successful handset business that makes much money.
Remember Motorola sued Apple.
Don't start fights you cannot win.
It seems the same bozos who were in charge of Motorola's handset business have been running their legal strategy. And now the business brianiacs from Google, the same guys who haven't managed to come up with one new money making idea in the last fifteen years, are pulling the strings. Good luck with that.
"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher
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