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October 22, 2012

Google Mulling Mobile Patent Settlement

Google is said to be considering a settlement to pacify a U.S. government agency, which claims the search engine has breached antitrust law in its handling of mobile device patents.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Google’s handling of patents the firm attained in its $12.5-billion deal to purchase Motorola Mobility in May, sources told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

It is alleged Google declined mobile device rivals’ patent licenses and obtained court injunctions against them to keep their products from being sold.

Google took over the pile of lawsuits Motorola launched against its competitors for impinging on its patents. Motorola also is being sued for declining to license patents. This has left various courts and agencies debating if Motorola’s patents are essential to certain technologies. If deemed essential, Motorola would be forced to license them.

FTC lawyers have threatened to charge the company under the Section 5 of the FTC Act — which prohibits unfair or deceptive business practices —for using Motorola’s patents as ammunition against rivals such as Apple and Microsoft, the source told WSJ.

According to the WSJ report, the FTC could have proof Google employees acknowledged to colleagues the firm’s handling of the patents is unethical.

If the FTC does go after Google, it is not certain what the conditions of a potential settlement would be.

The FTC has also been investigating allegations for the past year that the firm manipulated search results to suppress its competition and increase online advertising prices.

The FTC is to make a decision on how to proceed on the matter later this fall. The agency, reportedly, is also building a team in case it takes Google to court.

This isn’t the first time Google has faced FTC scrutiny.

In August, the search engine giant was fined $22.5-million civil penalty to settle accusations it broke a privacy policy by “improperly tracking Apple Safari users.” The penalty remains the biggest fine the agency has imposed against a corporation for breaching a previous agreement with the agency.