Microsoft has filed a formal complaint with the European Commission against Motorola Mobility and Google, arguing that the latter broke an earlier promise to make patents available on fair terms.
The European Commission acts as an antitrust watchdog for the European Union, and has previously demonstrated the willingness for taking companies to task over products or features. Googles recent acquisition of Motorola Mobility draws it into a legal battle that extends back to late 2010, when Microsoft and Motorola first started firing patent-infringement lawsuits at each other.
We have taken this step because Motorola is attempting to block sales of Windows PCs, out Xbox game console and other products, Dave Heiner, vice president and deputy general counsel of Microsofts Corporate Standards & Antitrust Group, wrote in a Feb. 22 posting on the Microsoft on the Issues blog. Their offense? These products enable people to view videos on the Web and to connect wirelessly to the Internet using industry standards.
In Microsofts telling, Motorola and other companies agreed to common technical standards for video and WiFi, the better for building compatible products. In exchange, patents governing those standards would be made available to participants on fair and reasonable terms.
Now, Heiner added, Motorola is demanding that Microsoft take its products off the market, or else remove their standards-based ability to play video and connect wirelessly. Moreover, the manufacturer is apparently demanding a hefty royalty for its patents.
For several quarters, Microsoft and Google (along with their proxies) have continued to battle each other on a number of fronts. Along the way, Microsoft has racked up some significant victories in the patent realm: a sizable number of large and small manufacturers now pay Redmond royalties for each Android device manufactured. According to Heiner, though, theres a wide gulf between Microsofts Android-related legal forays, and Motorolas maneuvers with standards-related patents.
There are big differences between Googles approach and Microsofts, he wrote. Microsoft is not seeking to block Android manufacturers from shopping products on the basis of standard essential patents. Rather, Microsoft is focused on infringement of patents that it has not contributed to any industry standard.
Meanwhile, a Google spokesperson offered eWEEK an emailed comment about the matter: "We haven't seen Microsoft's complaint, but it's consistent with the way they use the regulatory process to attack competitors. It's particularly ironic, given their track record in this area and collaboration with patent trolls."
However the situation resolves, using standard-essential patents as competitive leverage can have far-reaching consequences, according to one analyst. They cant be worked around once they are part of an industry standard, patent expert Florian Mueller wrote in a Feb. 22 posting on his FOSS Patents blog. Its key that the owners of such patents act responsibly, and if some of them dont, antitrust intervention is needed.
Google is already in line to potentially receive a Statement of Objections from the European Commission over its search and online advertising, he added. Google should think hard about whether it wants to get another 100- or 150-page Statement of Objections at some point relating to standard-essential patents.