The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s final decision on how to resolve its 20-month antitrust investigation of Google Inc. will be delayed until next year, said two people familiar with the situation who asked not to be named because the talks aren’t public.
The agency had been expected to announce the outcome of its probe this week, two other people familiar with the agency’s thinking had said.
Google had been preparing a letter with voluntary concessions to end the agency’s investigation of its practices in the Internet search market without a formal settlement or lawsuit, the people have said. The agency was also preparing to file a consent decree on patents curbing Google’s ability to seek court orders barring competitors’ products where the company has agreed to license the technology on reasonable terms.
A majority vote of the agency’s five commissioners is required both to resolve the investigation into Internet search and to accept a consent decree on standard-essential patents.
Niki Fenwick, a Google spokeswoman, and Cecelia Prewett, a spokeswoman for the FTC, declined to comment on the timing of the FTC’s decision.
The idea that the FTC might close its investigation of Google without a formal settlement on its practices in the search market had sparked an outpouring of criticism, including from Fairsearch.org, an alliance of Google competitors that includes Microsoft Corp. Fairsearch.org has charged the FTC risks falling behind the European Union in its enforcement of antitrust laws.
“Questions about Google’s search bias and other anti-competitive practices will not end if the FTC fails to take legally binding action to protect consumers and innovators in the U.S., where the market conditions and law are different than the EU,” Fairsearch.org said in an e-mailed statement.
The European Union’s antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia said yesterday after meeting with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt in Brussels that he’s expecting an offer from Google in January to settle an antitrust probe over claims that the world’s largest search engine discriminates against rivals.
Google has been engaged in settlement talks with the FTC for about two weeks, people familiar with the talks have said. The Mountain View, California-based company has resisted the FTC’s efforts to reach a formal settlement agreement over allegations that it skews search results to favor its services, saying such an agreement may hurt its business prospects, said the people.