Motorola Mobility Faces EU Curbs in Patent Clash With Apple

Motorola Mobility, which Google Inc. (GOOG) is selling to Lenovo Group Ltd., faces European Union curbs on its legal efforts to thwart Apple Inc. (AAPL) as antitrust regulators seek to boost competition for smartphones and tablets.

The company will get a “prohibition decision” for abusing key mobile-phone patents in its battle with the iPhone maker, Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, told reporters today in London. While such rulings typically include an order to modify behavior, Almunia didn’t specify whether the Google unit would face fines.

The EU is cracking down on possible patent abuses as Motorola Mobility, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) trade victories in divergent court rulings across the world on intellectual property. Almunia has said he’s targeting the “rules of the game” to prevent companies from unfairly leveraging their inventions to thwart rivals.

The EU also plans to finalize a settlement of a similar case against Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung in April, Almunia said. Regulators have received “proposals that are good” from Samsung that could be made legally binding to end an antitrust probe without fining the company.

Samsung promised in October to accept limits on its legal action to block sales of smartphones and tablets using patents that are part of a technology standard for five years against companies willing to seek fair licensing terms.

Samsung’s Rivals

Katie Dove, a spokeswoman for Libertyville, Illinois-based Motorola Mobility (MMI), couldn’t be immediately reached to comment.

After Samsung’s rivals and customers agree that the company’s offer allays antitrust concerns, regulators can make the submission binding on Samsung and end the EU probe as well as any threat of a fine.

Motorola Mobility, which Lenovo agreed to buy for $2.91 billion last month, received a formal complaint in May in which the European Commission, the EU’s antitrust regulator, said it suspects the company is abusing its dominant position by “seeking and enforcing” injunctions against Apple in Germany based on its patents that are essential for products to comply with industry technical standards.

Almunia’s comments follow this week’s settlement deal with Google that lifts the threat of fines for abusing its market dominance in the search-engine market.

Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the Brussels-based commission, declined to comment beyond Almunia’s remarks.

Gazprom Probe

In a separate investigation into OAO Gazprom (OGZD), the supplier of a quarter of the EU’s natural gas, Almunia said the company’s offer to settle an antitrust case still falls short.

“The problem” the EU aims to rectify is Moscow-based Gazprom’s use of oil indexation mechanisms to set up “abusive prices without connection with economic fundamentals,” Almunia said. “For example, prices in western Europe are much lower than prices for the same gas in countries with a common border with the Russian Federation or very close to the Russian Federation.”

“On gas pricing, more work needs to be done,” Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev said in an e-mailed statement following Almunia’s remarks. “The factual evidence we have presented does not support the commission’s concern about alleged excessive pricing in some eastern European markets. We are currently working on presenting further evidence to answer the commission’s questions in order to hopefully reach a satisfactory compromise.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Gaspard Sebag in Brussels at gsebag@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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