/// What Happens Now on Standards-Essential Patents?
While the U.S. Federal Trade Commission mostly let Google off the hook on search competition this week, it did get the company to sign a binding consent order over how it uses standards-essential patents. Standard-essential patents — which cover basic technology shared in an industry — have become a key issue as smartphone competitors fight over intellectual property. Having been lumped into the the long-running FTC antitrust investigation of Google over the past couple of months, patents weren’t originally an issue, but they emerged as an area where regulators could find fault and make a deal. Google became a key SEP owner when it bought Motorola for $12.5 billion last year, and it has continued Motorola’s efforts against competitors like Microsoft and Apple to try to stop them from producing products on the grounds of patent infringement. But at the FTC’s urging, Google has now promised that it won’t seek injunctions against willing licensees to block them from using patents that have been included in industry standards. Still, there are some allowed exceptions to the FTC order. For instance, if the licensee is outside the U.S., or if it doesn’t agree to terms set by court arbitration, then it’s okay for Google as a SEP owner to ask for an injunction. So what does this mean for the larger standards-essential patent fights? A few things — with a mix of winners and losers. The FTC is now on record saying that Google acted unfairly. That’s big. Google doesn’t have to drop its existing appeals of SEP cases, according to clarifying comments by FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan. However, Google can’t obtain or enforce any SEP exclusion orders or injunctions. Google’s agreement with the FTC is binding. But it is not necessarily as strong as what Apple and Microsoft already committed to voluntarily when the Department of Justice and other agencies in Europe were looking into the matter. They both said that they won’t seek injunctive relief based on SEPs, ever.