Motorola Mobility found guilty of breaching EU competition law, but escapes a fine

Motorola Mobility abused a dominant market position in the way it asserted patents essential to industry standards, the Commission said

Motorola Mobility has been found guilty of breaching European Union competition law but escaped a fine from EU regulators.

The European Commission on Tuesday ordered Motorola to eliminate the negative effects resulting from abuse of a dominant position.

Motorola Mobility will have to drop legal injunctions against Apple over so-called standards-essential patents. SEPs are patents that the holders declare essential to the implementation of technology standards such as those for 3G or GSM mobile devices, or H.264 video streaming. Because being able to follow these standards is crucial for all market players, standards bodies typically require patent-holders such as Motorola Mobility to agree to license such patents on fair, reasonable and non­discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia could have imposed a fine of up to 10 percent of the company's global turnover, but said Tuesday that there would be no such sanction. The company escaped a fine because there is no Commission decisional practice or EU court case law regarding the matter at issue, and national courts within the EU have reached different conclusions on the matter.

The Commission opened a formal probe into Motorola Mobility in April 2012 after the company sought an injunction on sales of Apple products it alleged infringed its patents. Seeking court injunctions is generally a legitimate remedy for patent holders in case of patent infringements, said the Commission. However, the Motorola Mobility injunctions relating to part of the GSM standard were found to constitute an abuse of a dominant position.

Microsoft has also filed a complaint against Motorola Mobility claiming the company was charging too much for use of its standards-essential patents in Microsoft products, in particular those relating to the H.264 codec. An investigation into that case was continuing, but Almunia is not yet in a position to make a ruling, he said Tuesday.

Motorola Mobility's current owner, Google, is in the process of selling it to Lenovo Group for $2.91 billion, but plans to retain most of the company's patent portfolio.

As part of a separate but similar investigation into the way Samsung Electronics asserted its own patent portfolio, the Commission made concessions offered by Samsung legally binding. According to these commitments, Samsung will not seek injunctions in Europe on the basis of its SEPs.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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