EU: Vendor patent wars “hold consumers hostage”


Europe's antitrust chief, Joaqun Almunia, claims consumers are being "held hostage" by patent wars, as firms try to stop their rivals from developing technologies that might infringe on their intellectual property.

He said the tech industry needs to clarify rules on the use of patents, as this is hindering competition in the EU and worldwide.

I would encourage industry players to come together to prevent the misuse of patents.

"One issue in these cases is the use of court injunctions that can infringe the principle of effective access inherent to Frand [fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory]," Almunia said in a speech at a recent IBA conference on competition law and policy.

"We need to find good answers soon, because consumers cannot be held hostage to litigation."

He said the misuse of patents is closely linked to the more specific area of standard-essential patents, which are important to many industries, including IT.

"It is clear that EU-wide standards can make market integration easier; allow companies to market their goods and services across Europe and the world; and ensure the interoperability of many products, such as communication devices," said Almunia.

He said that competition authorities and the courts should intervene to "ensure that standard-essential patents are not used to block competition."

The industry has a role to play in this, he added: "I would strongly encourage industry players to come together in the relevant standard-setting organisations and elaborate clear rules on the basis of these guiding principles to prevent the misuse of standard-essential patents."

Almunia's department is currently looking into the actions of Motorola and Samsung, and whether their dominant market positions are in breach of EU competition laws.

Apple and Microsoft made complaints over Motorola and how it asserted patent rights over the use of standards-essential mobile technology.

The Commission said Samsung was required to licence the use of patents concerning 3G mobile and wireless technology to other companies on Frand terms.

It also said the company may have contravened this obligation when trying to impose its patent rights against those firms in court.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.