Regulators in Europe and the United States have approved internet giant Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola’s mobile division.
"After a thorough review of the proposed transactions, the Antitrust Division has determined that each acquisition is unlikely to substantially lessen competition," the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust division said of a the Google buy and Apple/RIM’s purchase of Nortel patents.
In acquiring the patent trove from defunct Nortel, Apple needed to promise that the iPhone maker would not seek import injunctions of the same kind that the company has sought recently against Samsung.
Chiefly the US regulators were concerned that the acquisitions would be used to bludgeon competition by refusing to license the patents at a fair rate. That said there’s little doubt that the moves were in part motivated by technology giants Google, Apple and Microsoft seeking to shore up patent portfolios in forthcoming legal battles involving their respective mobile platforms.
In Europe, EU authorities was rather more pointed towards Google, saying that while their concerns were not enough to block the sale of Motorola Mobility to Google, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that the decision "should not and will not mean that we are not concerned by the possibility that, once Google is the owner of this portfolio, Google can abuse these patents."
The EU expressed concern that the patents would be tied to Android devices and said that they would remain vigilant, essentially threatening further action if the mobile patent wars goes in some direction the EU is unhappy with.
The reason that US and EU authorities are particular jumpy about the Google acquisition is that a good deal of the Motorola patents cover fundamental mechanisms of wireless devices. They would much rather that such patents be licensed on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis (FRAND).
Which is all very well but given that the mobile patent wars have spiraled out of control worldwide, the chances of such billion dollar patents not being used offensively must surely seem remote.