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November 28, 2012

Google’s Page Meets With FTC, Sources Say

Google’s CEO met with U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials Nov. 27 as part of the search engine’s settlement talks with the agency investigating its business practices, Bloomberg reports.

Google is trying to convince the FTC it hasn’t broken antitrust laws, sources told Bloomberg, adding Google has been in talks with the FTC for about a week.

The search engine, the sources said, is worried a formal settlement agreement with the FTC could harm its business prospects.

“We continue to work cooperatively with the Federal Trade Commission and are happy to answer any questions they may have,” Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

He refused to comment on if Page met with the FTC or to verify the existence of settlement talks. FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan also refused to comment.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Google’s handling of patents it 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 a 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.

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.

In August, the search engine giant was fined $22.5-million — a 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.