New, tougher antitrust rules aimed at Google?

What does Christine Varney have against Google? The new head of the Justice Department's antitrust division has already made it clear that she has Google in her cross-hairs. Before she took on the job, she notoriously termed Microsoft as "so last century" when it comes to monopolies and instead said she found Google to be more of a problem. And today, she's toughening up some Bush era antitrust rules in an effort to make it easier for firms to launch suits--some of which will most certainly be aimed at Google.

The New York Times reports that Varney plans to unveil the new tougher rules in two speeches today. The idea is to make it clear that the Bush era DOJ, which tended to favor defendants in antitrust suits, is over and to make it easier for plaintiffs--usually smaller companies--to bring suits against companies that may be engaging in monopoly or predatory practices.

In September 2008, the Bush-run DOJ issued guidelines for antitrust issues that many said were far too lenient on defendants, making it that much more difficult for smaller companies to bring suit. As a result, the current pipeline for antitrust cases is relatively thin, a situation that makes Varney uncomfortable.

Varney aims to make the Bush-era rules a thing of the past, "explicitly warning judges and litigants in antitrust lawsuits not involving the government to ignore the Bush administration's policies." Varney's plan is to bolster antitrust rules to ensure that larger, more deep-pocketed firms can't use the opportunity of the poor economy to engage in harmful non-competitive practices.

All of which, experts say, is bad news for Google. As Herbert Hovenkamp, cited in the Times article explains:

“This will be bad news for heavyweights in the tech industries — companies like Google and Microsoft,” said Professor Hovenkamp, who teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law. “People aligned with plaintiffs will rejoice. Those aligned with defendants will wring their hands.”

Currently, Google is battling a series of antitrust issues, including a suit launched by TradeComet, an investigation into its new book search settlement and most recently an FTC inquiry into issues surrounding Google and Apple's sharing of board members (including Google CEO Eric Schmidt).

While Schmidt claims he isn't worried, maybe he should be. Google's a big company with huge marketshare and what looks like a big DOJ bullseye on its forehead. One small Google misstep, and the DOJ would be more than happy to take aim.

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