EC and US approve Google/Motorola deal

The European Commission and US Department of Justice have cleared Google’s purchase of Motorola.

The catch? Only on the condition that the company makes its patents available to rivals on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

The EC says it believes that the $12.5 billion deal won’t significantly impede competition, as Google has every incentive to try and boost the takeup of the Android operating system by licensing its patents to other vendors.

“We have approved the acquisition of Motorola Mobility by Google because, upon careful examination, this transaction does not itself raise competition issues,” says Joaquín Almunia, Commission vice president in charge of competition policy.

“Of course, the Commission will continue to keep a close eye on the behaviour of all market players in the sector, particularly the increasingly strategic use of patents.”

Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice has approved the deal on very similar terms. However, it delivered a gentle warning to Google about the terms on which it licenses patents, citing assurances from Apple and Microsoft over their standard essential patent [SEP] licensing policies.

“The division’s concerns about the potential anticompetitive use of SEPs was lessened by the clear commitments by Apple and Microsoft to license SEPs on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, as well as their commitments not to seek injunctions in disputes involving SEPs,” says the DoJ in a statement. 

“Google’s commitments were more ambiguous and do not provide the same direct confirmation of its SEP licensing policies.”

The EC is also warning Google that the decision doesn’t mean that Google is necessarily in the clear under European anti-trust law, pointing out that a merger review isn’t the appropriate place  to evaluate this.

“In my personal opinion, Googlorola is heading for serious antitrust trouble if it doesn’t change course concerning FRAND,” says patent expert Florian Mueller.

“I don’t want to read more into the Commission’s statement than what it is saying, but some of what the Commission is not saying, such as describing Google’s assurances as helpful, says a lot.”

The deal still needs approval from regulators elsewhere, particularly China, which is expected to announce a decision in the next couple of months.