The New York Times reports that Google and its Motorola Mobility unit have been found to be abusing their patent dominance in 3G wireless networking technology by the European Commission. The ruling, which comes in the form of a preliminary finding that could lead to formal antitrust charges but has yet to do so, addresses Motorola’s efforts to bar European sales of Apple’s 3G mobile devices over infringement of “standards essential” patents that Motorola is required to license under reasonable terms.
Apple did briefly pull a number of devices from its German online store in February 2012, but they quickly returned after an injunction was lifted and Apple later won long-term protection from sales bans while its appeal in the case is heard.
The European Commission’s report today calls Motorola’s efforts to enforce a sales ban based on these standards essential patents “an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by E.U. antitrust rules.”
“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,” said Joaquín Almunia, the European Union’s competition commissioner, in a statement Monday, before a news briefing on the topic.
Apple has of course also targeted its competitors with lawsuits seeking sales bans over patent infringement, but Apple’s efforts do not involve standards essential patents that are required to be licensed.
The technology covered by these standards essential patents has been judged to be integral for any device supporting a given functionality, with rights holders being required to license the patents under fair and reasonable terms in order to promote competition. In this case, Apple and Google/Motorola differ on what the reasonable licensing rates should be and thus do not have a licensing agreement in place.
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