Google largely victorious in FTC anti-trust probe

Google will step up licensing of patents it purchased from Motorola, U.S. antitrust regulators said Thursday, but the company was largely cleared of accusations that it abused power -- a victory for the web giant.

U.S. antitrust regulators with the FTC made the announcement following a 19-month investigation into Google's business practices. The FTC probe had focused on allegations that Google has been abusing its dominance in Internet search. Google's rivals say the company has been highlighting its own services on its influential search results page while burying the links to competing sites.

“Evidence does not support the claim” that the prominent display of its own links was favoring its own sites, explained FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. Google plans to make some changes, but the ruling was a clear win for the search leader.

In a statement posted to its website, Google said it was pleased with the outcome of the case.


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"The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition," wrote David Drummond, senior vice president and chief legal officer.

"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."

Prominent display of Google’s proprietary content had the collateral effect of pushing the “ten blue links” of organic search results that Google had traditionally displayed farther down the search results page, many unnamed "vertical" websites alleged.

Google rivals such as Microsoft have been complaining about the company's techniques for years. On Wednesday, Microsoft vice president and deputy general counsel Dave Heiner wrote that Google was preventing his company from releasing a full-featured version of YouTube on the Microsoft Phone platform, for example.

"Google often says that the antitrust offenses with which it has been charged cause no harm to consumers. Google is wrong about that," he wrote. But the FTC disagreed.

"The facts weren’t there under the laws we apply," Leibowitz said.

The ruling wasn't entirely a victory, however. Google has been abusing information from rival websites, Leibowtiz said, scraping Yelp reviews for example, and leading consumers to believe they were Google's own. The company allegedly threatened to remove results entirely rather than clarify where they came from, he said.

“Google will stop misappropriating or scraping its rivals” for its search results, he said.

And the patent ruling is clearly not what Google would have liked. In 2012, Google paid about $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility (MMI), including MMI’s patent portfolio of over 24,000 patents and patent applications. Development and use of these types of standards is a cornerstone for many high-tech markets, and encourages innovation and investment in high-tech products, according to the FTC’s complaint.

The patents allow mobile phones such as the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy to communicate, explained Leibowitz. Years ago, Motorola promised to license its patents on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms to any interested manufacturer.

Other companies took Motorola at its word, he said. Yet Motorola -- and later Google -- did not stick to that promise.

“We stopped that abuse,” Liebowitz said.

"We’ve always accepted that with success comes regulatory scrutiny," Google's Drummond wrote.

Under a separate commitment, Google has agreed to remove restrictions on the use of its online search advertising platform, AdWords, that may make it more difficult for advertisers to coordinate online advertising campaigns across multiple platforms, the FTC announced.

"Google is clearly one of the innovators in its field," Leibowitz said. The settlement will allow the company to focus on what it does best, he noted.

We really do follow the facts where they lead, apply our statues faithfully, and do it with appropriate vigor and restraint," Leibowitz said.