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FTC probe ends with few limits on Google

– Google has settled a U.S. government probe into its business practices without making any major concessions on how the company runs its Internet search engine, the world’s most influential gateway to digital information and commerce.

Thursday’s agreement with the Federal Trade Commission covers only some of the issues raised in a wide-ranging antitrust investigation that could have culminated in a regulatory crackdown that reshapes Internet search, advertising and mobile computing.

But that didn’t happen, to the relief of Google and technology trade groups worried about overzealous regulation discouraging future innovation. The resolution disappointed consumer rights groups and Google rivals such as Microsoft Corp., which had lodged complaints with regulators in hopes of legal action that would split up or at least hobble the Internet’s most powerful company.

Google is still trying to settle a similar antitrust probe in Europe.

A resolution to that case is expected to come within the next few weeks.

After a 19-month investigation, Google Inc. placated the FTC by signing a consent decree requiring the company to charge “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” prices to license hundreds of patents deemed essential to the operations of mobile phones, tablet computers, laptops and video-game consoles.

The requirement is meant to ensure that Google doesn’t use patents acquired in last year’s $12.4 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility to thwart competition from mobile devices running on software other than Google’s Android system.

The products vying against Android include Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad, Research in Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Windows software.

Google also promised to exclude, upon request, snippets copied from other websites in capsules of key information shown in response to search requests. The company had insisted the practice is legal under the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Nonetheless, even before the settlement, Google already had scaled back on the amount of cribbing, or “scraping,” of online content after business review site Yelp Inc. lodged one of the complaints that triggered the FTC investigation in 2011.

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