Just hours after the European Commission announced their approval of Google’s $12.5 billion Motorola purchase, the United States Department of Justice has announced that they too have given the deal their blessing.
With this, Google is one step closer to closing the deal, although they’re still waiting on approval from China, Taiwan, and Israel before the transaction can officially be completed.
According to the DoJ’s Antitrust Division, who conducted the investigation, the purchase was “not likely to significantly change existing market dynamics” or “substantially lessen competition.”
That isn’t to say that they didn’t have their concerns though — like the European Commission, the Justice Department will continue to keep their eyes on Google for any signs of patent abuse. Reuters reports that the DoJ “would not hesitate to take enforcement action” in the case that Google were to manipulate the licensing of standard essential patents to their own advantage.
But let’s back up a minute here: what does that actually mean? Standard essential patents (also known as SEPs) are patents granted for technologies that are required to meet an industry standard. LTE, for example, is a networking standard for the wireless industry, and quite a few patented processes and technologies are required to make it work properly.
Because those standards in question are often ones that rival manufacturers need to make use of, companies that hold SEPs are usually made to license them under what are called RAND (reasonable and nondiscriminatory) or FRAND (fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory) terms by the organizations that create the standards in the first place. As you could probably guess, RAND/FRAND licensing terms are meant to ensure that the companies that have to license those technologies don’t get the shaft because some rival of theirs was originally granted the patent.
Being a major player in the mobile space thanks to the Android operating system, Google stands to pick up roughly 17,000 patents from Motorola Mobility when the purchase is complete. The Justice Department and the European Commission are fully aware that once Google has access to all of Motorola’s SEPs, they’ll be able to effectively screw other companies with unfair licensing costs. With all those new patents, Google has much more ammo they could use to screw rivals like Apple.
Of course, being able to do something and actually doing it are two completely different things. With both the European Commission and the U.S. Justice Department sniffing around, Google would never be able to pull off a feat without raising major eyebrows. Not that they’d want to anyway — for a company that prides itself on not being evil, using patents to stifle innovation seems patently un-Google. Even so, expect the rest of the bodies that Google need approval from to take a similarly tough stance on the patent issue.