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US, EU clear Google's $12.5B Motorola Mobility bid

Monday, February 13, 2012
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In a mild surprise, Google will enter the competition without a partner more experienced in the wireless industry. (AP Photo)

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Google's $12.5 billion bid to buy cellphone maker Motorola Mobility has won approvals from U.S. and European antitrust regulators, moving Google a major step closer to completing the biggest deal in its 13-year history.

Monday's blessings mean Google Inc. just needs to clear regulatory hurdles in China, Taiwan and Israel before it can take control of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. and expand into manufacturing phones, tablet computers and other consumer devices for the first time.

Getting government approval in China looms as the biggest stumbling block remaining. Google's relationship with China's ruling party has been on shaky ground since the company blamed hackers in that country for breaking into its computers two years ago. The breach prompted Google to move its Internet search engine from mainland China in protest of laws requiring some results to be censored.

Google prizes Motorola Mobility's more than 17,000 patents -- a crucial weapon in an intellectual arms race with Apple, Microsoft and other rivals maneuvering to gain more control over smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. Google announced the deal six months ago.

The deal will "enhance competition and offer consumers faster innovation, greater choice and wonderful user experiences," Don Harrison, Google's deputy general counsel wrote in a blog post.

Besides signing off on the Motorola Mobility deal, the Justice Department also approved two other moves in the mobile patent battles. The approvals cover the $4.5 billion purchase of Nortel Networks patents by a group including Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. and a separate Apple acquisition of Novell Inc. patents.

The Justice Department ended its investigations after concluding the new patent owners won't try to drive up the prices of competing mobile devices by demanding exorbitant licensing fees. The agency said it was particularly concerned about key patents held by Motorola Mobility and Nortel.

Apple Inc. and Microsoft promised to license the Nortel patents on reasonable terms while Google's commitments on the Motorola Mobility patents were "more ambiguous," according to a statement from the Justice Department's antitrust division.

Nevertheless, the Justice Department didn't find any evidence that Google's ownership of Motorola Mobility would lessen competition in a mobile device market that is becoming increasingly important as more people connect to the Internet on smartphones and tablet computers instead of desktop and laptop computers.

In granting its approval, the European Union also raised concerns about Motorola's aggressive enforcement of its patents. EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said regulators will "keep a close eye on the behavior of all market players in the sector, particularly the increasingly strategic use of patents."

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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