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FTC to investigate Motorola over patent abuses

The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly investigating Google over patent abuse charges against Motorola Mobility, which the search giant now owns.

According to Bloomberg, the FTC opened a formal investigation into whether Motorola is making good faith efforts to license its technology to rivals like Microsoft and Apple.

Citing people familiar with the situation, Bloomberg said the FTC issued a civil investigative demand, which the news agency likened to a subpoena.

At issue is whether Motorola is licensing its patented technology on FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms. FRAND is intended to keep major corporations in check and avoid abusive patent-related behaviour. Basically, if a company holds a patent on a technology that is essential to a particular industry - like 3G, Wi-Fi and video streaming in this case - they should make every effort to license that technology, even to major rivals.

"We take our commitments to license on fair, reasonable and non -discriminatory terms very seriously and are happy to answer any questions," a Google spokeswoman said today.

Motorola, however, has been accused of demanding exorbitant licensing fees for legal access to its technology. Microsoft, for example, accused Motorola of demanding about $4 billion (£2.5 billion) per year for patents related to its Xbox gaming console, which Motorola denied.

Motorola recently proposed a settlement on the Microsoft case, but Microsoft was sceptical about Motorola's intentions. On that front, the International Trade Commission this week sent the Xbox case back to its administrative law judge, delaying a final decision until August. That judge had recommended a ban on the Xbox in the US.

The European Commission has already opened a patent abuse investigation into Motorola, prompted by complaints from Microsoft and Apple. The EU is looking into Samsung on similar grounds.

The FTC, meanwhile, is also investigating Google separately over complaints about anti-competitive behaviour. During a recent appearance at the D10 conference, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said the agency is "in the middle" of its investigation into Google's business practices and has not yet decided whether to bring a case against the search giant.