FTC Chairman Will Decide Whether to Leave After Election

U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz, who has served at the agency for eight years, said he will decide whether to leave his post after the Nov. 6 election.

Leibowitz, 54, said he would quit the FTC if Republican candidate Mitt Romney wins because the president “deserves to have three commissioners from his own party, a tradition at the agency.” In an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Capitol Gains” set to air Oct. 28, and after the taping, Leibowitz noted he has spent 20 of the past 25 years in government.

He has told people privately that for personal reasons he intends to leave the agency sometime after the election, according to a person familiar with his intentions.

Still, he said in yesterday’s interview, he has no immediate plans for a departure.

Named FTC chairman in 2009 by President Barack Obama, Leibowitz, a Democrat, was reconfirmed for a second seven-year term at the bi-partisan agency in March. By law, the president names one commissioner chairman and no more than three of the five can belong to the same party.

Obama last month appointed Joshua Wright, a Republican law professor at George Mason University, to replace Republican Tom Rosch, who said he won’t seek another term. Maureen Olhausen, another Republican, was confirmed in April.

Google Probe

As Leibowitz deliberates his future, the FTC is deciding whether to sue Google Inc. (GOOG) for abusing its dominant position in Internet search in violation of antitrust laws. The agency has been investigating the operator of the world’s most popular search engine since April 2011.

Earlier this month, FTC investigators circulated an internal draft memo that recommends suing Mountain View, California-based Google for stifling competition in the Internet search market, people familiar with the matter said on Oct. 13.

Leibowitz yesterday declined to say whether he’d accept the staff’s recommendation. He said he expects to resolve the investigation by the end of the year or “possibly sooner.”

When asked whether the commission is open to settlement discussions with Google, Leibowitz said, “We would always prefer resolution to litigation, but we haven’t decided what we are going to do.”

On the merger front, the FTC is reviewing Hertz Global Holdings Inc. (HTZ)’s $2.6 billion bid to buy Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc. (DTG), which includes the sale of its Advantage brand. The transaction is meeting resistance from some at the commission over concerns the deal will crimp competition in the market for rental cars and hurt consumers, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

Leibowitz declined to comment on the agency’s review.

Standard Patents

The FTC is also taking a stand on how companies use patents for industry-standard technology, which help ensure that different manufacturers’ products, such as mobile-phone antennas and global-positioning system software, work together.

Companies with this technology pledge to license patents for those inventions on reasonable terms.

“This is a very big issue for competition in the marketplace,” Leibowitz said. “When a company spends billions of dollars to buy expensive patent portfolios to use in litigation, we all admit this is wasteful and isn’t going to productive uses.”

Honoring Pledges

The FTC is investigating whether Google’s Motorola Mobility unit is honoring pledges it made to license industry-standard technology for mobile and other devices on fair terms, people familiar with the matter said in June. The patents involve wireless and video technology for mobile devices.

Google’s bid to block imports of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)’s Xbox gaming system and Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPhone based on patents owned Motorola Mobility unit may hurt competition, the FTC said in a June filing with the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, which is charged with protecting U.S. markets from unfair trade practices.

The FTC recommended limits on the use of patents related to industry standards to block imports. Motorola Mobility is using standard-essential patents in cases against Microsoft and Apple.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sara Forden in Washington at sforden@bloomberg.net; Peter Cook in Washington at Pcook6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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