Motorola, Google face probes in Europe, Australia

April 3, 2012

Foreign regulators are taking a close look at Google and Motorola Mobility as federal regulators in the United States continue to work on their own antitrust probe into the tech giant.

Officials in the European Union are looking at Motorola patents and Google’s search business, while a court in Australia recently found that the company hosted misleading ads on its AdWords platform.

The European Union’s competition watchdog announced Tuesday that it has opened “two formal antitrust investigations” against Motorola Mobility, which is being bought by Google.

At issue are “standard” patents held by the wireless company, which are supposed to be licensed at a fair rate. But Apple and Microsoft have complained that Motorola’s decision to seek injunctions against their products on the basis of these basic patents.

“The Commission will assess whether Motorola has abusively, and in contravention of commitments it gave to standard setting organizations, used certain of its standard essential patents to distort competition,” the statement said, in part.

In response to the EU probe, Google said in a statement, “We haven’t finalized our acquisition of Motorola Mobility, but will work with the European Commission to answer any questions they might have. We have longstanding concerns about patent abuses, including lawsuits and royalty demands targeting the Android ecosystem.”

Google is also facing EU complaints from TripAdvisor and Expedia, Bloomberg reported. According to the report, the companies claim that the search giant is using its market-leading position in search to discriminate against its rivals in search results.

In Australia, a court ruled Tuesday that Google was responsible for misleading ads hosted on its Adwords system. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Federal Court cound that Google violated a trade practices act by publishing four advertisements that “comprised a business name, product name or Web address. . .not sponsored, affiliated or associated with the particular advertiser.”

“This is an important outcome because it makes it clear that Google and other search engine providers which use similar technology to Google will be directly accountable for misleading or deceptive paid search results,” said Robert Sims, the chairman of the ACCC, in a statement.

The court did not agree with Google’s argument that key words are selected by the adverstiser and therefore not the responsiblity of the ad platform.

“Google created the message which it presents,” the ruling read. “It is Google’s technology which creates that which is displayed.”

Related stories:

Justice may sue Apple, publishers over e-book prices

Antitrust officials approve sale of Motorola Mobility to Google

Google faces new regulation in ITA deal

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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