Giant European Union flag

The patent wars are about to cool down in Europe... a little bit, anyway. The European Commission has revealed measures that prevent both Motorola and Samsung from using lawsuits over standards-based patents as offensive weapons against competitors, rather than last-ditch options when negotiations fail. To start, the regulator has ordered Motorola to cut out any "anticompetitive" terms in patent licensing deals with Apple and other companies. Motorola is allegedly abusing its control of cellular patents by forbidding companies from contesting those patents' validity; companies and their customers shouldn't be forced to pay for licenses that might not hold up in court, the Commission says. Motorola won't pay a fine for the claimed violation since there's no precedent, but the phone maker now can't threaten a lawsuit simply because Apple wants to challenge the patents it's licensing.

Samsung, meanwhile, isn't waiting for the EU to take unilateral action. The tech giant has made an agreement with the Commission that prevents it from demanding injunctions over standards-essential patents for the next five years, matching a proposal it made in October. Samsung now has to negotiate royalty rates with any would-be licensee for up to a year. If there's still no deal after that, an arbitrator or court makes the final call.

Neither the Samsung pact nor the Motorola decision will affect European lawsuits over regular patents, including those that arguably prompted the standards-related suits in the first place. They also won't help with any related claims in the US. However, the EU's steps should have firms thinking twice before they add more legal disputes to the ever-growing pile -- and that's good news for those of us who'd rather see companies duke it out in the marketplace instead of the courtroom.

[Image credit: European Parliament, Flickr]

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EU prevents Motorola and Samsung from suing over standards-based patents