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Monday, December 17, 2012

Google Antitrust Case Is Said to Be Nearing End

10:08 p.m. | Updated Adding that Google and the F.T.C. declined to comment.

In the talks between the Federal Trade Commission and Google to negotiate the terms for ending the agency's antitrust investigation, things seem to be going Google's way, two people who have been briefed on the discussions said Sunday.

A key issue in the talks, accusations that Google biases its search results to favor its own services, has been taken off the table, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations are continuing.

As the negotiations now stand, Google would make a set of voluntary commitments. In addition, it would be sued and sign a consent decree, agreeing to license patents deemed essential for wireless communications on reasonable terms.

But the patent issue is a late entrant to the case. Subpoenas that the F.T.C. staff began sending to Internet companies last year laid out a wide-ranging investigation focusing on Google's conduct in the search business.

The commission's decision on the Google investigation is expected within days. If the government scrutiny concludes without addressing the accusation that Google's search engine favors its own commerce services like shopping and local listings over rivals, it would represent a considerable narrowing of the ambitions of the original inquiry.

Politico reported on Saturday that the talks had moved away from search, adding details to reports that Google was resisting a consent decree in that area.

Google, according to the two people, has agreed to voluntarily refrain from copying summaries of product and restaurant reviews from othe r Web sites and including them in Google search results, a practice known as “screen scraping.”

The company would also agree to make it easier for advertisers to transfer their product, pricing and bidding data to competing ad networks, including Microsoft's Bing search-and-ad service, the two people said.

Google, they said, would also refrain from striking exclusive deals with Web sites to use and feature Google's search service.

Google declined to comment on the details of a settlement Sunday. It has said it was continuing to cooperate with regulators. A representative for the F.T.C. also declined to comment.

Google is also under investigation by the European Commission, which this year listed accusations of search bias as the first of four areas of Google's conduct that it was investigating.