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Google Settles on Patents, Other Antitrust Items

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Google is agreeing to license certain patents to mobile phone rivals and stop some search practices but in a win, the Federal Trade Commission didn't find enough evidence the company favors its own services in search results. (Jan. 3)

SHOTLIST:

AP TELEVISION - AP CLIENTS ONLY

Washington - Jan. 3, 2012

1. SOUNDBITE: Jon Leibowitz / Chairman, Federal Trade Commission

"This morning, by a bipartisan vote. Or actually, two bipartisan votes, of 4 to 1 and 5 to nothing, the Federal Trade Commission announces comprehensive, a comprehensive settlement of all of our competition-related investigations into Google. Today's actions delivers more relief for American consumers faster than any other option available to the commission. And protects competition and consumers in a number of crucial markets central to the daily lives of hundreds of millions of American consumers and businesses. It ensures Americans' continued access to the smartphones, tablet computers and computer gaming systems as well as a fair playing field in internet search and search advertising. Today's commission action follows an exhaustive investigation into Google's business practices. Commission staff received over 9 million pages of documents from Google and other parties, interviewed numerous industry participants and took sworn testimony of key Google executives. There are two aspects to the settlement we announced today. The first involves Google's misuse of patent protection to prevent competition. We stopped that abuse. The second concerns allegations that Google unfairly biases its search results to harm competition. We closed this investigation, finding the evidence does not support a claim that Google's prominent display of its own content on its general search page was undertaken without legitimate justification."

STORYLINE:

Google is agreeing to license certain patents to mobile phone rivals and stop a practice of including snippets from other websites in its search results as part of a settlement to end a 19-month investigation into the search leader's business practices, U.S. antitrust regulators said Thursday.

In a vindication for Google, Federal Trade Commission officials added that they didn't find enough evidence to support complaints that Google unfairly favors its own services in search results.

Google will sign an agreement requiring the company to charge "reasonable" prices to license hundreds of patents deemed to be "essential" for rival mobile devices such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone, Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry and smartphones running on a Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software. Those patents came as part of Google's $12.4 billion acquisition of device maker Motorola Mobility Holdings last May.

Regulators say Google Inc. is also promising that upon request, it will exclude snippets copied from other websites in its summaries of key information, even though the company had insisted the practice is legal under the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Despite the fair-use defense, Google already had scaled back on the amount of cribbing, or "scraping," of online content after business review site Yelp Inc. lodged one of the complaints that triggered the FTC investigation.

Under the FTC resolution, Google's rivals will now be able to request that their excerpts are left out of Google's search results without having to fear that links to their sites will be penalized in Google's search rankings.

In another concession, Google pledged to adjust the online advertising system that generates most of its revenue so marketing campaigns can be more easily managed on rival networks.

The FTC's investigation focused on allegations that Google has been abusing its dominance in Internet search.

Microsoft Corp. and other Google rivals say the search company has been highlighting its own services on its influential results page while burying the links to competing sites. Google Inc. has fiercely defended its right to recommend the websites that it believes are the most relevant. While the FTC said it uncovered some obvious instance of bias in Google's results during the investigation, the agency's five commissioners unanimously concluded there wasn't enough evidence to take legal action.

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