VoIP Business and Virtual PBX
Broadband Solutions

FTC investigating Google over Motorola patents

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Google's Motorola Mobility unit is improperly blocking access to industry-standard innovation that should be licensed to competitors according to traditional industry and legal practice.

Source says Google has been served

A source says Google has been served by the FTC with a civil investigative demand -- similar to a subpoena. The news was reported previously by Bloomberg, which said the government is as well seeking information from Apple and Microsoft.

The issue involves so-called frand patents -- "fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory" -- that cover innovation essential to the smooth operation of an industry. As CNET's Roger Cheng has explained, the idea "is based on the principle that fair licensing of intellectual property is often needed because at times certain ideas and patents just need to be shared for everything to work at the same time properly" -- i.e., for things like smartphones from rival companies to work with each other. In a kind of quid pro quo arrangement, companies that produce research that's adopted by the industry as a standard agree to license that innovation at a fair rate.

Lately nevertheless, Google rivals, just as Microsoft and Apple, have been crying foul over Google's and Motorola Mobility's willingness to play by these rules.

The recommendation for an Xbox ban

Not long afterwards the recommendation for an Xbox ban, the Federal Trade Commission sent a letter to the ITC saying efforts to block imports of the Xbox and of Apple'siPhone could cause "substantial harm" to consumers, competition, and technology, and recommended that companies should be limited in their ability to block competitors' imports based on frand patents.

And not long afterwards the FTC sent its letter, a federal judge presiding over a different case questioned an Apple bid for a ban against Motorola, but together chastised Motorola's legal team for its own injunction strategy, saying, "I don't see how you can have injunction against the use of a standard-essential patent." In later throwing out the case -- in what was ultimately a win for Motorola -- the judge but made a point of calling attention to the frand issue, saying, "I don't see how, given FRAND, I would be justified in enjoining Apple from infringing the '898 [patent] unless Apple refuses to pay a royalty that meets the FRAND requirement."

Back in April, the European Commission opened an investigation based largely on complaints from Apple and Microsoft on whether Motorola had breached its promise to offer fair licensing of frand patents.

The following statement

Google sent CNET the following statement: "We take our commitments to license on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms very in all seriousness and are happy to answer any questions" from the FTC. Apple declined to comment. We haven't heard back from the FTC or Microsoft, nevertheless we'll update this post if we do.

Bloomberg's report today said Kirk Dailey, vice president of intellectual property for Motorola Mobility, said on June 20 that Microsoft and Apple "seemingly won't accept any price" for licensing frand patents held by Motorola.

Update, June 30, 8:31 a.m. PT:Recasts top of story based on confirmation, from a source, of FTC contact with Google. Adds "no comment" from Apple. Adds Google statement.

Crave writer Edward Moyer, as well CNET News' Saturday editor, once built a model of the DNA molecule for a PBS science series--out of telephone cord and tapioca balls. He as well worked at USA Today and other pubs--waxing philosophical with Elvis' ex and slurping spaghetti with Roller Girl of "Boogie Nights," among other things. E-mail Ed with your story ideas and insights.

The latest communications research news on CNET News

Check out the latest communications research news on CNET News, featuring the latest on cell phones, mobile gear, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), and Internet access via broadband and wireless connections.

More information: Cnet