Microsoft Targets Motorola, Google in EU Complaint

Microsoft has filed a formal complaint against Motorola Mobility and Google, arguing the latter broke a promise related to standard-essential patents.

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. Google€™s 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.

€œWe 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 Microsoft€™s Corporate Standards & Antitrust Group, wrote in a Feb. 22 posting on the Microsoft on the Issues blog. €œTheir offense? These products enable people to view videos on the Web and to connect wirelessly to the Internet using industry standards.€

In Microsoft€™s 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 €œfair and reasonable terms.€

Now, Heiner added, €œMotorola 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 €œhefty€ 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, there€™s a wide gulf between Microsoft€™s Android-related legal forays, and Motorola€™s maneuvers with standards-related patents.

€œThere are big differences between Google€™s approach and Microsoft€™s,€ he wrote. €œMicrosoft 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. €œThey can€™t 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. €œIt€™s key that the owners of such patents act responsibly, and if some of them don€™t, 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. €œGoogle 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.€

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