updated 05:25 pm EST, Mon February 13, 2012
DOJ next to OK Google-Motorola and adds Nortel
The US Department of Justice in a brief said it had approved both Google's acquisition of Motorola, the joint purchase of Nortel patents by Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and others, as well as a similar Novell patent sale. Antitrust regulators in both cases had decided it was "unlikely" that the deals would hurt competition. It was partly reassured by Apple, Google, and Microsoft all promising to license standards-based patents based on FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) terms.
DOJ officials were most concerned about Apple and Google, noting that the two could hold up each other's platforms. Motorola was already "aggressive" in pushing for patent licenses and lawsuits, and Google's ownership wasn't likely to change that, the agency said. In turn, the terms Apple and partners agreed to with Novell meant that any of the open-source patents had to be offered in a "perpetual, royalty-free" way when used with Linux.
Both Apple and Microsoft had already promised not to abuse standards patents.
Google, however, was less than definite and had started setting unusual conditions, such as limiting it only to future licensing income and only if the potential lawsuit target agreed to drop any challenges to a patent, paid an amount into escrow during negotiations, and agreed to similar behavior. Google's attitude was a "significant concern," the DOJ said, and merited a close watch on its behavior.
Microsoft and RIM didn't have enough market share to be major threats, the DOJ added.
The Google-Motorola deal was approved by the EU earlier in the day. It can't yet close as it's still waiting on Chinese, Israeli, and Taiwanese approval.
Google's $12.5 billion deal if completely finalized still represents a major upheaval, although whether or not it will have any advantage in patents has been debated given Motorola's so far mixed attempts to target Apple and its recent loss to Microsoft in one dispute. The takeover could heavily skew the Android market since, despite Google's promises of keeping its distance, it has been eyeing hardware strategy and could favor Motorola over HTC, Samsung, and others.