SAN FRANCISCO — Google is agreeing to license certain patents to mobile phone rivals and stop a practice of including snippets from other Web sites 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 today.
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 Web sites 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 Web sites 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.
“Undoubtedly, Google took aggressive actions to gain advantage over rival search providers,” said Beth Wilkinson, a lawyer that the FTC hired to help steer the investigation. “However, the FTC's mission is to protect competition, and not individual competitors.”
The FTC's findings vindicated Google, which has depicted its methods as a more convenient way to capsulize key information so users can get the information they desire more quickly and concisely.
“The conclusion is clear: Google's services are good for users and good for competition,” David Drummond, Google's top lawyer, wrote in a blog post today.
Google executives also sought to debunk the notion that the company's recommendations are the final word on the Internet. They pointed out that consumers easily could go to Microsoft's Bing, Yahoo or other services to search for information. “Competition is just a click away,” became as much of a Google mantra as the company's official motto: “Don't be evil.”
The FTC's implicit endorsement of Google's approach to Internet search is a blow for Microsoft and other rivals who had lodged complaints with regulators in hopes of goading the government into taking legal action that would split up or at least hobble the Internet's most powerful company.
Investors had already been anticipated Google would emerge from the inquiry relatively unscathed.