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December 20, 2012

FTC to Delay Decision in Google Anti-Trust Investigation

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has put the brakes on a quick resolution into a nearly two-year-old Google anti-trust investigation.

The FTC, which originally was to make a decision this month, will now delay that decision for weeks — likely until January 2013, a source told Reuters.

It is thought the decision is connected to the European Union’s probe into Google practices. The European Commission (EC) said in a statement this week that it could reach a settlement with the search engine company as early as January 2013. It is thought the FTC will also release its decision then.

“Since our preliminary talks with Google started in July, we have substantially reduced our differences regarding possible ways to address each of the four competition concerns expressed by the Commission” competition policy, VP Joaquín Almunia said in a statement.

“After meeting Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, today in Brussels, I have decided to continue with the process toward reaching an agreement based on Article 9 of the EU Antitrust regulation. On the basis of the progress made, I now expect Google to come forward with a detailed commitment text in January 2013.”

The EC has charged that Google exercises its power over the search market to harm its competitors and give its own products and services the upper hand. The company’s AdWords system has also been under fire — the EC has asked for more information on how Google handles campaigns.

The FTC has similar concerns of Google’s practices in the U.S.

Earlier this week, it was reported settlement talks between Google and the FTC could result in a deal that was likely to disappoint the company’s rivals who are gunning for strong sanctions.

According to news reports, as part of the agreement – which ­requires the approval of the five-member commission — Google would 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 and giving its own products and services the upper hand, however, The Washington 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.