The interface of competition, standards, and patents has received increased attention over the past few years, in particular in the information, communication, and technologies sector. With regard to the mobile devices sector, some even refer to an on-going "patent war" in reference to the extensive global patent litigation between technology and software companies such as Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, Motorola, HTC, and others.
Antitrust authorities have recently signaled increased vigilance about the strategic use of patents. When clearing the Google/Motorola merger in February 2012, Vice-President Almunia stated, "the Commission will continue to keep a close eye on the behaviour of all market players in the sector, particularly the increasingly strategic use of patents."
In January 2012 the European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation against Samsung Electronics to assess whether it may have abusively used certain of its essential patent rights to distort competition in the field of mobile devices in Europe. In April 2012, the Commission opened two further formal proceedings against Motorola Mobility to assess whether Motorola may have abusively used certain of its standard essential patents related to mobile, wireless, and video compression standards to distort competition.These proceedings are on-going.
The purpose of this paper is to briefly outline some of the issues raised by the use of standards and patents from an EU competition law perspective, and discuss what lessons market participants and regulators might draw from ongoing disputes.