Microsoft Wages Patent War Against Motorola

Microsoft Wages Patent War Against Motorola

Microsoft is firing at Motorola for its treatment of fair-use patents, piling evidence against Motorola for alleged abuse of standard patent usage guidelines.

Microsoft filed a complaint with the European Commission over how Motorola handles its fair-use standards essential patents. The move comes after Motorola offered what the company considered unfair terms on a video technology patent for Windows computers and Xbox. Motorola is now threatening to ban sales over possible infringement, a move that’s worked in similar claims against Apple.

The complaint is another signal Motorola’s attempts to block products from being sold or licensed out on high terms is backfiring. Drawing the EU’s attention toward Motorola’s behavior means potential changes to policies about standards-essential patents, or FRAND laws, keeping the manufacturer, now owned by Google, from waging patent battles with others like Apple, Samsung or Microsoft.

Apple also filed a formal complaint against Motorola with the European Commission about unfair licensing terms, while pushing for changes to FRAND laws.

Fair-use, or FRAND, patents, like the ones on video technology at issue between Microsoft and Motorola, cover common functions that are industry-wide standards. European law allows use of the functions in any manufacturer’s designs providing the patent owner and user set fair licensing terms.

But when terms are not reached and the case ends up before a judge, the lawsuits keep mobile manufacturers from innovating as they argue ownership and rights to standard features.

Motorola holds a large number of patents that form the basis of infringement claims, but Microsoft, and Apple, have sued Motorola in the past in attempts to take down Android. Microsoft is pointing its finger at Motorola for offering unfair licensing terms, but Microsoft benefits from such agreements to a high degree — the Redmond, Wash., company has licensing agreements with makers of more than 70 percent of the Android-based smartphones in the U.S.

For Microsoft, a PC heavyweight but runner-up in the mobile marketplace, access to Motorola patents on fair terms is essential to the company’s push in the mobile market. A threat to its computers and game consoles poses challenges at a particularly tumultuous time for the technology company as it negotiates a transition into the mobile market.

In a blog post, Microsoft calls out Google, close to a complete $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola, for its treatment of other industry competitors. Microsoft cites licensing terms offered by Motorola it deems unfair, like a $22.50 demand for every $1,000 laptop sold.

“Google has a chance to make a change,” said Microsoft attorney Dave Heiner in the post. “For a company so publicly committed to protecting the Internet, one might expect them to join the growing consensus against using standard essential patents to block products.”

But Google says it will act fair about Motorola’s patent catalog, a promise that, if followed through, would make it easier for Apple and Microsoft to do business. Still, past experiences might be keeping competitors from trusting their rival.

Now that Motorola is facing patent pressure from both of its major device-making rivals, as well as potential investigations by European regulatory agencies, the battle over standards-essentials patents could come to a halt, replaced by a fair use debate. Until then, Microsoft will likely continue to defend its existing strongholds in the digital market in the form of computers and game consoles as it maneuvers into the mobile marketplace.

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