Microsoft Launches European Antitrust Suit Against Moto

Microsoft is accusing Motorola Mobility (MMI) of violating European Union antitrust laws in a lawsuit filed this week. The Redmond, Washington-based company said that MMI is violating its FRAND commitments by seeking high royalty fees for patents the company contributed to industry standards.

Microsoft vs. Motorola Mobility

In a blog post on Microsoft’s site, Dave Heiner, Vice President & Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft’s Corporate Standards & Antitrust Group, said that MMI had reneged on its pledge to honor its FRAND commitments, and that the company’s new owner, Google, wants to use those FRAND patents to kill video on the Web.

According to Mr. Heiner:

You probably take for granted that you can view videos on your smartphone, tablet, PC, or DVD/Blu-ray player and connect to the Internet without being tied to a cable. That works because the industry came together years ago to define common technical standards that every firm can use to build compatible products for video and Wi-Fi. Motorola and all the other firms that contributed to these standards also made a promise to one another: that if they had any patents essential to the standards, they would make their patents available on fair and reasonable terms, and would not use them to block competitors from shipping their products.

Motorola has broken its promise. 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.

The new salvo is part of a large patent war being fought by Microsoft, Google, Apple, Samsung, MMI, Nokia, HTC, and a host of other players in the wireless and smartphone markets. Each has accused other companies of infringing on their patents and been accused themselves in return.

Microsoft, for instance, has successfully sued every major Android handset maker and secured licensing fees for various Microsoft-owned patents. The company is, at this point, earning billions of dollars (US) on the sale of Android devices around the world as a result.

Apple has sued (and been sued by) Samsung, MMI, HTC, Nokia, and other smartphone makers of violating several of its patents, and the company has accused Google’s Android of “slavishly copying” Apple’s iOS. Apple’s goal appears not to be to get licensing deals, but to either get those Android devices to stop violating Apple’s patents or be taken off the market.

MMI and Samsung have both struck back at Microsoft and Apple with their own patent infringement suits, but both of these companies have employed patents they already committed to FRAND licensing terms in their suits, resulting in both Apple and Microsoft crying foul.

“Motorola should honor its promises, and make its standard essential patents available on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms,” Microsoft’s David Heiner said in his blog post. “Microsoft is certainly prepared to pay a fair and reasonable price for use of others’ intellectual property. Within just the past few years, Microsoft has entered into more than a thousand patent licenses. We know how it’s done.”

Specifically, he complained that MMI has demanded a royalty of 2.25% for 50 patents that make up part of the H.264 video standard. According to Microsoft, that’s neither fair nor reasonable, and Mr. Heiner said that this compares to the 0.00002% rate paid by his company for the other 2,300 patents involved in the standard.