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EU antitrust watchdogs quiz Daimler, others on failed Nokia fee talks

By Foo Yun Chee
The Daimler logo is seen before the Daimler annual shareholder meeting in Berlin

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union antitrust regulators have asked Daimler <DAIGn.DE>, Continental <CONG.DE> and other car parts makers for details of failed mediation talks with Nokia <NOKIA.HE> in a patent licensing fee dispute.

Daimler, Continental, Bury Technologies, Valeo <VLOF.PA> and Thales-owned <TCFP.PA> Gemalto complained to the European Commission last year about the fees Finland's Nokia <NOKIA.HE> was demanding for patents related to car communications.

The row highlights a wider battle between tech companies and the car sector over royalties for technologies key to navigation systems, vehicle communications and self-driving cars.

Europe wants to protect its technological sovereignty as Nokia and Ericsson <ERICb.ST> are regarded as leading forces in the development of such technologies, while others say this should not be at the expense of other sectors such as autos.

Nokia initiated mediation with the companies, which sources said ended earlier this month without agreement. EU competition enforcers now want to know what happened, the people said.

Daimler, which owns the Mercedes-Benz luxury car brand, said the European Commission had sent a request for information.

The German company said it has a different legal opinion on how key patents should be licensed to the auto industry.

"Nokia so far refused to comprehensively and directly licence our suppliers," Daimler said.

"Fair and non-discriminatory access to these standards for all users of the essential patents for telecommunications standards is a key prerequisite for the development of new products and services for connected driving."

The Commission declined comment, beyond saying that its investigation was ongoing.

Nokia said in an emailed statement that it has made fair licensing offers to automakers, tier-1 suppliers and through a collective licensing pool.

"Nokia has made several fair settlement offers ... but unfortunately those offers have been rejected," it added.

Continental, which is seeking a direct licence for Nokia's essential patents for 3G and 4G, said it would pursue its antitrust complaint against the telecoms equipment maker.


(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Alexander Smith)