Microsoft on Wednesday lodged a formal complaint with the EU’s competition regulator against Motorola Mobility and its soon-to-be owner Google, saying Motorola’s aggressive enforcement of patent rights against rivals breaks competition rules.
The complaint follows a similar step by Apple against Motorola last week.
Motorola is in the process of being taken over by Google for US$12.5 billion, the biggest acquisition in the Californian company’s history. Microsoft fears that Google will continue Motorola’s tight hold on key patents.
Apple and Microsoft have been hit by legal cases in Europe and the US, with Motorola claiming that the companies’ products are using key patents it owns without permission.
The two countered that Motorola is overcharging for the use of these patents, which cover technologies necessary to connect wirelessly to the Internet or stream video online.
“We have taken this step because Motorola is attempting to block sales of Windows PCs, our Xbox game console and other products,” Microsoft deputy general counsel Dave Heiner wrote in a blog post.
“Motorola is on a path to use standard essential patents to kill video on the Web, and Google as its new owner doesn’t seem to be willing to change course,” Heiner added.
A spokesman for Google declined to comment on the complaint against Motorola. A spokeswoman for Motorola didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.
The complaints are the latest development in increasingly acrimonious disputes between global technology giants over patents on standardized technologies.
Industrywide standards play an important role not only in the technology sector; they allow products from different companies to function seamlessly together — different mobile phones or tablet computers connecting to the Web and each other via 3G or Wi-Fi networks, for example. Under EU competition rules, holders of patents necessary for industry standards are required to let other companies use them for a fair price.
However, regulators and companies complain that holders of standard-essential patents have tried to gain an edge in the market by suing rivals over the use of their patented technologies.
When the European Commission — the EU’s competition watchdog — cleared Google’s takeover of Motorola earlier this month, it indicated concern over Motorola’s aggressive patent enforcement.
The US Department of Justice in its clearance of the merger made similar comments.
Separately, the commission has already launched a formal investigation into Samsung’s similar approach to patent protection and has warned that other probes may follow.
Microsoft says Motorola is demanding an unreasonable fee for using its patents, amounting to 2.25 percent of the products’ total price. For a US$1,000 laptop computer, that would mean a royalty of US$22.50 for using 50 patents related to a video standard.
Microsoft says a group of 29 companies that hold the other 2,300 patents related to this standard charge a total of US$0.02 for using them.