Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Justice Department will probably give antitrust approval next week to Google Inc.’s bid for Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., said two people familiar with the matter.
If approved by regulators, the acquisition of Libertyville, Illinois-based Motorola Mobility will give Google more than 17,000 patents for mobile-phone technology.
The Justice Department also will probably approve a plan by a consortium led by Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. to buy Nortel Network Corp. patents, the people said. The Nortel acquisition will give the Apple-Microsoft consortium, which also includes Research in Motion Ltd., Sony Corp., Ericsson AB and EMC Corp., control of more than 6,000 patents and applications that cover wireless technologies.
In its investigation of the deals, the Justice Department became concerned with the increasing tendency of patent holders suing to stop other companies from using their essential smartphone technology, one of the people said. The department will continue to examine companies such as Google that haven’t sworn off the practice, the person said.
Both people didn’t want to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak about the investigations publicly.
Google’s $12.5 billion planned acquisition of Motorola Mobility and the Apple-Microsoft group’s $4.5 billion purchase of patents from bankrupt Nortel are part of a growing trend of technology companies buying patents to defend themselves against intellectual-property suits.
Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the department’s plans.
Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich and and spokeswoman Mistique Cano didn’t immediately respond to e-mails and phone calls seeking comment on the possible approval.
Also yesterday, Google said in a letter to technology standards groups that it would still consider seeking court injunctions to block companies from using its technology if it couldn’t resolve “standard compliant” patent disputes. Google wrote the letter to answer questions from the European Commission, which is reviewing the Motorola Mobility deal to determine if it would hurt competition.
European regulators will rule on the acquisition by Feb. 13, Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the commission in Brussels, said Feb. 7. The agency could clear the deal or open an in-depth probe that would last about 90 working days.
“Transparency and consistency in licensing practices are important with respect to standard essential patents,” Deputy General Counsel Allen Lo said in a letter to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. “I am confident that Google’s acquisition of MMI will not disturb those goals or otherwise adversely affect” manufacturers or consumers.
The European Commission also is investigating Samsung Electronics Co. to check whether the company broke a commitment to license its smartphone patents to rivals on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.”
Microsoft and Apple have said they won’t deny other companies from using their technology if they’ve previously signed an agreement to that effect, the two people said.
Companies often sign contracts agreeing to license essential technology for a reasonable price as a way to ensure steady improvement in the technology.
The Motorola Mobility acquisition -- the largest wireless- equipment deal in at least a decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg -- would make Mountain View, California-based Google a competitor to the other handset makers that make Android devices. In addition to Motorola Mobility phones, the software runs handsets made by companies including Samsung and HTC Corp.
--With assistance from Sara Forden in Washington. Editors: Fred Strasser, Joe Schneider
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