Motorola under scrutiny as EU opens two antitrust probes

Less than two months after it approved Google’s (s GOOG) purchase of Motorola Mobility (s MMI), the European Commission has announced that it will be investigating the handset maker over claims that it is breaking competition rules.

Regulators in Europe said on Tuesday that they were launching not one but two formal investigations into whether Motorola’s recent patent lawsuits amount to anti-competitive behavior.

The announcement, put out by the Commission a short while ago, outlines the detail:

The Commission will assess whether Motorola has abusively, and in contravention of commitments it gave to standard setting organisations, used certain of its standard essential patents to distort competition in the Internal Market in breach of EU antitrust rules.

The opening of proceedings means that the Commission will examine the cases as a matter of priority. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigations.

Following complaints by Apple and Microsoft, the Commission will investigate, in particular, whether by seeking and enforcing injunctions against Apple’s and Microsoft’s flagship products such as iPhone, iPad, Windows and Xbox on the basis of patents it had declared essential to produce standard-compliant products, Motorola has failed to honour its irrevocable commitments made to standard setting organisations. In these commitments, Motorola engaged to license those standard-essential patents on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. The Commission will examine whether Motorola’s behaviour amounts to an abuse of a dominant market position prohibited by Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).

In addition, the Commission will also assess the allegation by both Apple and Microsoft that Motorola offered unfair licensing conditions for its standard-essential patents in breach of Article 102 TFEU.

Motorola has been embroiled in a series of high-profile patent disputes against competitors in Europe — moves which have led to a ban on certain iOS features in Germany, withdrawal from online stores of some Apple products, the threat of an injunction banning the sale of Xboxes over a video patent and arguments over what it claims are ‘essential’ patents.

The companies have complained to the Commission in the past, and on Monday Microsoft even said it was moving its European logistics operation from Germany to the Netherlands in order to protect its stock of Xboxes from being seized if a ruling went against it.

Motorola has yet to respond, but Google seems to be taking a step back, issuing a statement in which it pointed out that it has not yet completed its buyout of Motorola — a $12.5 billion purchase announced last summer which appeared to largely focus on the value of the company’s patent portfolio.

“We haven’t finalized our acquisition of Motorola Mobility, but will work with the European Commission to answer any questions they might have,” Bloomberg quotes Google spokesman Al Verney as saying. “We have longstanding concerns about patent abuses, including lawsuits and royalty demands targeting the Android ecosystem.”