The European Commission has accused Motorola Mobility of abusing its standard-essential patents against Apple in Germany. The Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to the company over a misuse of its GPRS patents, which has seen Motorola pursue injunctions against Apple products instead of properly licensing the technology.
The Commission believes Motorola's actions "ultimately harm consumers," after the company initially agreed to license its standard-essential patents on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. However, the company still sought injuctions against Apple in Germany even though Apple was willing to enter an agreement. Explaining the regulator's decision to investigate Motorola, Commission VP Joaquín 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.
It's the second time Apple has benefitted from a European Commission investigation over the abuse of FRAND patents in just over a year. In January 2012, the Commission launched a probe into Samsung's refusal to fairly license wireless patents essential to the 3G standard. Samsung later dropped injunction requests against Apple in Germany, the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands in an attempt to escape litigation.
"Companies should spend their time innovating and competing on the merits of the products they offer."
It's another big legal blow for Google and Motorola, which have not seen much success on the patent front. Motorola has lost other cases around the world on patents related to standards, leading many to ask why Google bought it in the first place. While the Commission's statement comes after a preliminary investigation, it does warn that it does "not prejudge [its] final outcome," which will come after Motorola has exercised its right to defend its position.
Update: Motorola has issued the following statement, stating that it followed procedures in Germany:
We agree with the European Commission that injunctions should only be sought against unwilling licensees and, in this case, Motorola Mobility followed the procedure established in the German Supreme Court’s Orange Book ruling. Apple had to make six offers before the court recognized them as a willing licensee.