Google Settles FTC Antitrust Charges, Agrees to Change Patent Policy

Google reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which was investigating its business practices

Google Inc. and the Federal Trade Commission have reached a settlment ending a 19-month investigation of the internet giant with the firm agreeing to change some of its business practices, the agency announced Thursday. 

The bipartisan voting committee at the FTC elected unanimously to close the investigation after Google agreed to changes in changes in its patent policies "on critical standardized technologies needed to make standardized devices such as smart phones, tablets and gaming consoles."

The commission found that Google's algorithm did not violate any antitrust laws.  Rivals had complained that Google highlighted its own services on its search result pages and buried links to competitors.

Google had vehemently denied the charges, saying its results are filtered by source-agnostic relevance.

Google also faced FTC scrutiny over practices surrounding patents it acquired when it purchased Motorola for $12.5 billion last August.

The commission ruled that Google had abused the patent licensing on the cellphone technology it acquired with Motorola and ordered the company to make licenses more available to rivals. Many of those competitors built businesses and products based on those patents before Motorola — shortly before its acquisition — began limiting access to them, Leibowitz said.

As part of Google's settlement with the FTC, the company agreed to license patents deemed to be "essential standards" for competing mobile devices such as Apple's iPhone and iPad, Research in Motion's Blackberry and Microsoft's Xbox, all of which Leibowitz held up as examples at the conference.

In the search-engine matter, companies that feed off Google search traffic to their sites accused the Silicon Valley goliath of tinkering with its search algorithm to favor its own sites, which include local listing, e-commerce and travel deals.

But antitrust lawyers said the FTC could not prove that Google was maliciously altering its code to quash competition by simply showing changes in the algorithm that affect some of those sites that complained.

"Although some evidence suggested that Google was trying to eliminate competition, Google's primary reason for changing the look and feel of its search results to highlight its own products was to improve the user experience," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz (pictured above) said to reporters at a press conference Thursday.