Motorola and Samsung EU patent abuse cases resolved

Motorola logo Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The ruling against Motorola came ahead of its sale to Lenovo

Two separate but related patent-abuse probes by the European Commission - one involving Samsung, the other Motorola Mobility - have come to an end.

Both cases concerned the way the companies had enforced their ownership of critical technologies that devices require to connect to mobile networks.

They had both tried to ban Apple products from sale based on their use of these standard-essential patents.

The regulator ruled Motorola had abused its position. Samsung settled its case.

The South Korean firm escaped an official rebuke by offering to respect restrictions on its use of standard-essential patents (SEPs) over the next five years.

The commission chose not to impose a fine on Google-owned Motorola. However, its ruling against the firm set a new legal precedent.

It confirmed that a "safe harbour" provision exists if an organisation using another's SEP agreed to abide by whatever a court said would be a fair payment if the two parties could not agree a fee between themselves. Under such circumstances, the patent owner cannot seek an injunction against the licensee.

However, the European Commission added, the licensee need not give up their right to challenge the validity of the patent.

2G and 3G disputes

The cases both date back to 2012 when the regulator announced it would investigate the two firms.

Motorola had temporarily caused several iPad and iPhone models to be pulled from sale that year on the basis that Apple had failed to license some of its 2G GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) inventions.

Apple managed to end the ban by offering to pay a bigger licence fee, but was subsequently made by Motorola to give up the right to challenge the patents at a later date in order to end the dispute - a move the European Commission has now ruled was "an abuse of a dominant market position".

The Samsung case centred on the firm's 3G mobile data inventions.

After the South Korean firm and Apple failed to agree royalty fees for the technologies, Samsung launched lawsuits in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Apple's German online store briefly removed models of its iPad 2 from sale in February 2012

Following the announcement of the European Commission probe, the Galaxy phone maker dropped the cases. It added it would not seek similar SEP-related injunctions in Europe for five years so long as those using the patents agreed to take part in a 12-month negotiation processes, and would respect a court ruling if those talks failed.

The European Commission has now made that offer legally binding.

"[The] decisions reflect the commission's balanced approach with respect to intellectual property rights and competition rules," said competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

"Both competition and the protection of intellectual property are essential to innovation and growth."

The decisions restrict the ability of companies to counter Apple's own patent claims - the US firm has sued several others based on its ownership of non-SEP inventions.

But consultant Florian Mueller noted that Google might still welcome the news bearing in mind it is in the process of selling the Motorola handset division to Lenovo.

"It helps to clear up a mess before a major transaction is consummated," he wrote.

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