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Google 'wants to dodge consent decree' in any FTC antitrust deal

Choc Factory reportedly trying for a wink and a handshake on antitrust probe

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Google is rumoured to be trying to persuade the Federal Trade Commission that it hasn't broken any antitrust laws and that any agreement it makes with the agency isn't bound by a consent decree.

The Chocolate Factory is looking for a light wrist-slap for its alleged search market dominance as the agency finishes up its 19-month probe of the firm's alleged monopoly.

The FTC and Google have been negotiating a settlement for the last week, and Mountain View wants that agreement to be an informal handshake sort of deal, not a formal beatdown that might hurt its business, familiar people whispered to Bloomberg.

Apparently, Google chairman Eric Schmidt was spotted with the head of the company's Washington office on Capitol Hill yesterday and chief Larry Page was also in town to meet with FTC officials.

The FTC, however, is pushing for Google to fix all of the issues the agency has with the firm's search engine or face a lawsuit, other familiar anonymous people said earlier this month, and wants the full decree.

Google's search business has been blamed for exclusive agreements with online publishers, ranking its own results higher than rivals' offerings, using customer reviews from other sites without permission and generally smiting competition whenever it can.

The internet giant is currently in talks with EU officials as well as the FTC to explain and sort out the allegations.

EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia has said that he's due to meet with FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz next week.

Meanwhile, federal regulators are also getting interested in how standards-essential patents (SEP) are being used by Android manufacturers to effectively protect Google's share of the mobile market.

The FTC has been looking into patents as part of its antitrust probe and the question is whether the commission can demand a settlement from Google on Android under the umbrella of unfair competition.

Patent cases are already being argued through the courts and the International Trade Commission in the US and the newest FTC commissioner, Republican Maureen Ohlhausen, has said in a separate probe that she's unsure the agency has jurisdiction to hand out decrees on patent litigation.

However the commission majority said that in "appropriate cases" it would challenge whether using SEP to get bans on products constituted unfair competition. ®

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