FTC Chairman Leibowitz Says He’ll Leave Agency by Feb. 15

Jonathan Leibowitz , chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, said he will leave for the private sector by Feb. 15 after eight years at the consumer-protection and antitrust enforcement agency.

Leibowitz, whose watch included a 20-month antitrust investigation of Google Inc. that left the search engine operator free to extend its dominance, said the agency has made progress on a number of consumer protection issues including health care, privacy, technology and so-called last-dollar fraud cases such as mortgage-modification scams.

“I felt we had gotten through much of our agenda,” Leibowitz said yesterday in an interview.

Leibowitz, 54, who was chairman for almost four years, said he doesn’t have another job lined up and will look for a position at a law firm or company.

He declined to comment on who might succeed him as head of the five-member commission.

Potential successors whose names have been publicly mentioned include two Democrats on the commission, Edith Ramirez and Julie Brill, as well as Howard Shelanski, the director of the agency’s bureau of economics, Willard Tom, a former FTC general counsel, Philip Weiser, the dean of the University of Colorado Law School, and Leslie Overton, a Justice Department lawyer.

Dysfunctional Washington

Leibowitz said it’s not important that a replacement be named by the time he leaves because “we’re a functioning bi-partisan agency in an era when Washington is not terribly functional.”

The FTC released a 14-page summary today of what it said were agency achievements under Leibowitz with a statement announcing his departure.

It described an agency straddling new areas of consumer oversight created by digital technology and more traditional areas such as deceptive health claims.

Leibowitz said yesterday that efforts to end pay-for-delay deals between drug companies were among the commission’s most important initiatives during his tenure. The deals, between branded pharmaceutical companies and generic-drug makers, may delay the marketing of cheaper alternatives to blockbuster compounds.

The FTC has challenged several such agreements in court, contending that they violate U.S. antitrust laws. One case, involving a generic testosterone treatment called Androgel, is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Google Suit

Leibowitz declined to comment on the Google antitrust inquiry, which ended without FTC enforcement action.

The decision was a setback to rivals like Expedia Inc., Microsoft Inc. and Yelp Inc.

The FTC examined whether Google unfairly skewed search results to hobble competition and concluded that the Mountain View, California-based company was driven more by an intent to improve search results than by a desire to stifle competitors.

Google agreed in a letter to the FTC, which the agency said is legally enforceable, to let websites remove their content from targeted search services like Google Shopping or Google Local without removing or demoting that content in the main Google search engine.

Google also agreed in a consent decree to limits on when it can seek to block sales of competitors’ products that rely on so-called standard-essential patents.

Investigators didn’t find evidence for a stronger case, Leibowitz said in a Jan. 4 press briefing explaining the outcome of the probe.

Some companies or people may think the agency should do more “because they are locked in hand-to-hand combat with Google around the world and have the mistaken belief that criticizing us will influence the outcome in other jurisdictions,” Leibowitz said at the time.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.