It's difficult not to look cynically at Microsoft's latest move to file an antitrust complaint in the EU
over Motorola's patent royalty rates, and think about just how obnoxiously hypocritical
Microsoft is being as a company on this particular issue. First off, Microsoft has become a pretty significant patent aggressor
over the past few years, filing lawsuits and pressuring companies to pay up. It's also been a huge fan of patent FUD -- especially against open source competitors. Most people assume that Microsoft was the main player behind SCO's quixotic (but costly and distracting) legal battle against Linux. Then, of course, every so often Microsoft officials insist that Linux infringes
on a bunch of its patents, but it never wants to make clear which ones. More recently, of course, Microsoft has been demanding license fees
for its patents from a variety of companies making use of Android -- to the point that some have argued Microsoft makes more off each Android installation than each Microsoft Phone installation.
Of course it was partly Microsoft's aggressive patent position against Android that put Google in the position of feeling compelled to buy Motorola Mobility to get its patent portfolio, mainly for the sake of protecting itself and having a bunch of patents that it could use as a shield against a lawsuit from the likes of Microsoft. Of course, Microsoft was already suing Motorola
over the company's use of Android.
A few weeks ago, we discussed the tough spot
that Google was in over Motorola's patents. The company has indicated that would keep in place Motorola's current patent licensing strategy. While many of us would prefer that Google make a big statement by freeing or opening up many of these patents, the company is actually in something of a ridiculous position: if it does that... its competitors (mainly Microsoft) will claim anti-trust violations by saying that the company is using its market position to undercut the prices that other charge.
It's other choice? Keep the current rates. And that's what it's indicated it would do... so the second that the EU and the US approved the merger, Microsoft files this antitrust complaint, arguing that the rates Motorola charges for its patents is too high. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't position for Google. Keep the rates as they are, and they're violating antitrust rules by charging too much. Cut the prices or free up some of the patents, and it's an antitrust issue for leveraging their position and "dumping" in the market.
Of course, Microsoft's almost gleeful blog post about its complaint ignores all of this reality and history, and tries to position it as if Motorola and Google are trying to "kill" web and mobile video by charging too high a royalty rate. Frankly, for anyone who knows anything about Microsoft's patent practices over the past few years, they'll see through this and recognize how laughable Microsoft's claims are.
Either way, the situation is ridiculous. Fighting over patents doesn't help bring any new innovations to market. It just diverts money to the lawyers.