Motorola Mobility, the Google takeover target, has sued Microsoft in Germany for infringement of a patent related to video technology used in Windows 7, Media Player and the Xbox. A decision due on April 17 from a Mannheim regional court could lead to a ban on the sale of these products in Europe’s largest economy.
“We would have preferred to keep our European distribution centre ... in Germany, as it has been for many years, but unfortunately the risk of disruption from Motorola’s patent litigation is simply too high,” Microsoft said.
It is the first time a company has chosen to move operations out of Germany to avoid its strict patent laws, which make it easy for patent holders to obtain injunctions against products they believe infringe their rights.
“Certain developments in patent enforcement have really turned Germany into a dangerous location for business, a problem other high-tech companies, such as Apple, are also experiencing,” said Florian Mueller, an independent patent analyst.
“Some advocacy groups have been concerned about this but we have not had a high-profile case like Microsoft before.”
The departure of Microsoft will put 100 jobs at risk at Arvato, which operated the logistics centre near Aachen.
Germany has seen a flurry of patent lawsuits by high-tech companies in the past year. Last November Motorola won a case against Apple for infringing 3G patents, and last August a German court ordered Samsung to halt advertising and sales of its Galaxy Tab 10.1, a week after the tablet’s European launch.
In the Netherlands, in contrast, courts have more frequently decided not to grant injunctions to patent holders, making it a safer place to locate Microsoft’s physical goods. If the German courts grant the injunction, the affected Microsoft products will officially be banned from sale there, though many stores are likely to procure them from across the border.
Microsoft and Apple have asked the European Commission to intervene in disputes with Motorola Mobility, which Google has agreed to acquire for $12.5bn.
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