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Google Antitrust Talks Can’t Last Indefinitely, Almunia Says

Google Inc. has a limited time to settle a European Union antitrust probe, though there isn’t a formal deadline to end discussions, the EU’s antitrust chief said today.

The EU is negotiating with Google to resolve a previously disclosed antitrust dispute over allegations that the world’s largest search engine discriminates against rivals, said Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia today at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington.

A so-called Article 9 settlement may require Google to alter the way it does business without imposing fines or finding that the company broke competition rules.

“To explore the possibilities of an Article 9 settlement is not open forever,” Almunia said. He added: “I have no deadline.”

Google, based in Mountain View, California, is under growing pressure from global regulators probing whether the company is thwarting competition in the market for Web searches. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and antitrust agencies in Argentina and South Korea are also scrutinizing the company.

Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, said the company is cooperating.

‘First Ideas’

“We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission,” Kovacevich said in a statement.

Almunia said he has received from Google the “first ideas” for dealing with EU concerns that the company promotes its own search services at the expense of competitors’ offerings. The EU also has raised concern that Google copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews and stifles competition in the advertising industry with website and software-developer agreements.

Any solution “should be able to solve not only the past but the risks of the future,” Almunia said. European regulators also are examining complaints about Google’s Android mobile operating system for smartphones and tablets, and haven’t yet decided whether to open a formal investigation, he said.

The discussions with Google aren’t easy and the rapid pace of technological development is changing the industry’s dynamics constantly, he said.

Antitrust enforcement itself is evolving, and the EU “today or tomorrow” will sign an agreement with China to strengthen coordination with the country’s antitrust regulators, Almunia said.

EU officials are concerned about China’s commitment to protecting intellectual-property rights and the treatment of European companies operating in the country, he said.

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