February 18, 2012 12:54 am

Apple complains to EU over Motorola patents

Days after antitrust regulators said they were concerned that Google might use patents acquired with the purchase of Motorola Mobility to limit competition in the smartphone market, Apple has lodged a complaint in Brussels over the issue.

With its latest salvo in the smartphone industry’s patent wars, Apple has tapped into an official anxiety that has shown signs of spreading in recent days.

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Motorola disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission late on Friday that the European Commission had notified it of the Apple complaint earlier in the day.

The protest is over Motorola’s “enforcements … of standards-essential patents against Apple allegedly in breach of [its] FRAND commitments,” according to the filing. Companies are required to license their intellectual property under “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) terms if it is included in tech industry standards, since rivals have little choice but to adopt it in their own products.

Brussels has already expressed concern that tech companies might try to use essential patents to hamper rivals. Earlier this month, it launched an investigation into Samsung’s use of similar patents to sue Apple in Europe, and competition officials expressed their unease about the issue when clearing Google’s acquisition of Motorola earlier this week.

The US Department of Justice disclosed its own concerns for the first time this week as it pointed to what it called Motorola’s “long and aggressive history of seeking to capitalise on its intellectual property”. Google was likely to continue that policy, it added.

Like Brussels, Washington has sought to draw attention to patents that play an essential part in standards and are required to be licensed under FRAND rules.

According to the DoJ, Google’s use of its patents in future is a cause of “significant concern”, since the search company has refused to follow Microsoft and Apple in ruling out seeking injunctions against rivals over such patents.

While regulators have grown uneasy, however, they have yet to act against companies over standards-essential patents, and this week the Motorola acquisition was cleared on both sides of the Atlantic.

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