Motorola Mobility (MMI:US), which Google Inc. (GOOG:US) is selling to Lenovo Group Ltd., is likely to escape an antitrust fine when European Union regulators rule next week that it tried to use patents to block sales of Apple Inc. products, two people familiar with the case said.
The European Commission will only order Motorola Mobility to drop legal injunctions over patents that relate to technology that is necessary for industry-standard products such as mobile phones, said the people, who asked not to be named because a final decision hasn’t been made. The EU could announce a decision as soon as next week.
Avoiding a fine would be “sensible,” allowing the EU to clarify the law around such patents “without punishing actions that took place against an unclear legal background,” said Alfonso Lamadrid, a lawyer at Garrigues in Brussels. The EU has previously shunned fines in cases where the law wasn’t clear.
The EU is cracking down on patent abuses as Motorola Mobility, Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. trade victories in courts across the world on intellectual property. Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s antitrust chief, has said he’s targeting “rules of the game” to prevent companies from unfairly using their inventions to thwart rivals.
Almunia told reporters earlier this month that he would decide on the Motorola Mobility case and finalize a settlement with Samsung by the end of April. He said in February that he planned a “prohibition decision” for Motorola Mobility that would find the company violated antitrust rules.
Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the European Commission in Brussels, declined to comment on any fine for Motorola Mobility. Katie Dove, a spokeswoman for the Libertyville, Illinois-based company, declined to comment.
Google is selling Motorola Mobility’s handset manufacturing business to Lenovo for $2.91 billion, after buying it for more than $12 billion in 2012. It will keep most of Motorola Mobility’s patents. Google and the EU have agreed to settle a separate antitrust investigation into its search results.
The EU opened a formal probe into Motorola Mobility, which makes smartphones that run on Google’s Android software, in April 2012, following complaints by Microsoft and Apple. The two U.S. companies accused Motorola Mobility of seeking injunctions over patents they had promised to license on terms that are “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.”
Industry-standard technology helps ensure products such as mobile-phone antennas and global-positioning system software can operate together when made by different manufacturers.
U.S. regulators last year ended a probe into Motorola Mobility patents when Google agreed to lift injunctions.
Samsung accepted curbs on what legal action it could take in Europe to end the EU’s antitrust case without any fines. The U.S. Justice Department in February closed a similar probe into Samsung without taking action.
Rhee So-eui, a spokeswoman for the Suwon, South Korea-based company, declined to comment on the timing of a settlement decision.
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