Google FTC Investigation

Google has settled an United States FTC investigation by agreeing to not seek injunctions against willing licensees on standard-essential patents that the company had obtained from Motorola. Also in the settlement, the Commission closed its investigation of Google’s online search and advertising business.

Regarding patents, Google entered a consent order prohibiting itself from among other things:

directly or indirectly making any future claims for Covered Injunctive Relief based on alleged Infringement of a FRAND Patent except as permitted under this Order.

A statement summarized the FTC allegations:

Google reneged on its FRAND commitments and pursued – or threatened to pursue – injunctions against companies that need to use [Motorola]’s standard-essential patents in their devices and were willing to license them on FRAND terms. Specifically the company pursued injunctions in federal district court and at the United States International Trade Commission (“ITC”) to block competing technology companies from using [Motorola] standard-essential patents.

It will be interesting to see what effect today’s settlement has on the ongoing smartphone patent litigation “war” and on the value of standard-essential held by other technology companies.

Today’s settlement also resolved an FTC investigation of Google’s online search and advertising businesses and particularly allegations of manipulation of results to benefit its own offerings.  According to the statement:

the FTC concluded that the introduction of Universal Search, as well as additional changes made to Google’s search algorithms – even those that may have had the effect of harming individual competitors – could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users. It therefore has chosen to close the investigation.

Since online search is the core of Google’s business, the closure of this investigation is seen as a big win for Google. Additional coverage at the NY Times, Laboratorium and Gizmodo.