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Google, US FTC settle antitrust case

The company agrees to license mobile patents to competitors and to stop scraping rivals' content

By , IDG News Service
January 03, 2013 02:45 PM ET

IDG News Service - Google has agreed to change some of its business practices, including allowing competitors access to some standard technologies, to resolve a U.S. Federal Trade Commission antitrust complaint against the company.

BACKGROUND: Lawmakers question FTC's investigation

Google has also agreed to give online advertisers more flexibility to manage advertising campaigns on Google's AdWords platform and on rival ad platforms, the FTC said Thursday. After a 19-month FTC investigation, Google also agreed to stop some of its "most troubling" search practices, including scraping Web content from rivals and allegedly passing it off as its own, said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

Google has agreed to allow competitors access to standards-essential patents the company acquired along with its purchase of Motorola Mobility in 2012, the FTC said. The FTC raised concerns that Google had reneged on commitments to offer some mobile and Web patents on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory, or FRAND, terms.

Without the patent agreement, a number of smartphone and gaming console devices were "under threat" of patent litigation, Leibowitz said during a press conference. "Today's action makes clear that the commitment to make patents available on reasonable terms matters, and that companies cannot make these commitments when it suits them ... and then behave opportunistically later," he said.

The agreement doesn't include a fine, but the FTC could fine Google up to US $16,000 per violation if the company violates the terms of the patent settlement, Leibowitz said. The agency will monitor Google's compliance with the settlement, he said.

The settlement also doesn't include an agreement on search bias because the FTC didn't find enough evidence to force an agreement, he said.

The FTC did see some evidence of search manipulation, but Google's actions "didn't violate the American antitrust laws," Leibowitz said.

The agency looked at allegations that Google threatened to remove websites from search results if they complained about the search giant scraping their content, Leibowitz. "If the allegations are accurate, they describe conduct that is clearly problematic and potentially harmful to competition because it undermines incentives to innovate," he said. "Why would you create a new site for restaurant reviews if someone else can take them and appropriate them as if they were their own?"

The settlement shows Google's services are "good for users and good for competition," David Drummond, Google's senior vice president and chief legal officer, wrote in a blog post..

The settlement will give websites the ability to opt out of Google's search results and allow advertisers to mix and copy their Google ad campaigns with third-party services that use Google AdWords APIs, Drummond wrote.

"We've always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny," he added. "But we're pleased that the FTC and the other authorities that have looked at Google's business practices ... have concluded that we should be free to combine direct answers with web results."

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