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December 18, 2012

Google, FTC Likely to Settle

Settlement talks between Google and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could result in a deal that would bring to an end a nearly two-year-old investigation into allegations the search giant broke antitrust laws.

According to the Washington Post, however, the agreement is likely to disappoint the company’s rivals who are gunning for strong sanctions.

As part of the agreement, which ­requires the approval of the five-member commission, Google will have limits placed on its ability to use bits and pieces from other websites. It would also have to agree to make it easier for marketers to transfer their online ads to other services.

The deal does not address allegations that Google exercises its power over the search market to harm its competitors, giving its own products and services the upper hand, The Post reported.

The talks, which have been in progress for weeks, are now zeroing in on if Google will consent to a binding agreement that would curb its future business practices, unnamed sources told the Post.

The company is trying to avoid such an agreement and is instead pushing to make concessions that would appear to be “voluntary.” The search engine, the sources said, is worried a formal settlement agreement with the FTC could harm its business prospects.

The FTC is also investigating Google’s handling of patents it attained in its $12.5-billion deal to purchase Motorola Mobility in May.

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 the Wall Street Journal.

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.