Motorola abused its position in patent dispute, says EU

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Google-owned Motorola Mobility abused its dominant position in Germany’s mobile market when it filed a patent injunction against Apple.  This is according to EU anti-trust officials who released their preliminary antitrust review of the case on Monday. The patent injunction was for Motorola’s mobile phone standard-essential patents (SEPs).

In a statement, the European Union said it had reached a “preliminary view on a competition investigation opened in April 2012, about a month before Google’s acquisition of the company closed, and decided that Motorola Mobility’s action “amounts to an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by EU anti-trust rules.”

Motorola Mobility has asserted a standard-essential patent against Apple in Germany that relates to the European Telecommunications Standardisation Institute’s (ETSI) GPRS standard, a key industry standard for mobile and wireless communications, the Commission said.

The Google-owned company committed to license relevant patents on FRAND (Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) terms when the standard was adopted in Europe, but still it sought an injunction against Apple in Germany over a GPRS patent, the Commission said. Moreover, after the injunction was granted, Motorola went on to enforce it, even when Apple had declared that it would be willing to be bound by a determination of the FRAND royalties by the German court, the Commission said.

The EU Competition Commission argued that Motorola sought an injunction despite Apple’s apparent willingness to enter an agreement.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said: “The protection of intellectual property is a cornerstone of innovation and growth. But so is competition.

“I think that companies should spend their time innovating and competing on the merits of the products they offer – not misusing their intellectual property rights to hold up competitors to the detriment of innovation and consumer choice.”

Motorola won an injunction over Apple products that used patents relating to data transmission technology in February 2012. Apple offered to pay Motorola a licence fee for using the patents – but the two companies could not agree on a price. During the negotiations, Apple products, including the iPhone, and the iPad, were removed from sale on Apple’s German website – but were still available in other stores in the country during the dispute.

In April 2013, the US International Trade Commission tossed out a Motorola Mobility patent claim that threatened to block the import of some Apple iPhone models into the United States.

Motorola had accused Apple of infringing on patented technology that makes touch screens ignore fingers when people are holding smartphones to their ears for calls.

Also in April 2013, Germany’s patent court invalidated a patent held by Apple – and contested by rivals Motorola and Samsung – on its “slide to unlock” function for smartphones, concluding that the horizontal swiping gesture was not a technical innovation in itself and therefore did not meet requirements of European patent law.

The aim of the function was to make it easier for users to unlock their smartphone and not solve a specific technical problem, the court said.

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