Tags: google | antitrust | suit | europe

SO What? How a Statement of Objections Changes Google's Case

Wednesday, 15 Apr 2015 09:13 AM

Google Inc. will finally get to see what the European Commission thinks it’s doing wrong when it reads the hundreds of pages of legal analysis and evidence that make up a formal statement of objections, or SO.

The SO allows the EU to set out its case, laying out where officials suspect a company has violated competition rules and citing evidence from complainants. It starts a new process in the more than four-year-old case that could lead to administrative hearings, court challenges or a settlement.

“It’s a serious step. It indicates that the commission is en route to adopting a negative decision,” Paul Hughes, European competition counsel at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in London, said by phone. “It marks an escalation in the enforcement procedure to a more robust stage by the commission.”

Once it gets the SO, Google will have the chance to see the full set of the evidence -- often redacted to cover companies’ business secrets -- as it prepares a written defense against the EU complaint. Google can seek a hearing in Brussels to defend itself in front of senior EU officials who will weigh any possible fines or order for the company to change its behavior.

Companies that back or oppose the company can also speak up at the hearing.

Such a statement is “a regulatory requirement” for the commission before adopting a ruling on antitrust violations, Hughes said.

Negative Decision

“It’s the grounds on which the commission intends to rely in adopting a negative decision and gives the defense the opportunity to respond to the allegations,” Hughes said. “And no doubt, they will.”

The EU on Wednesday also said that it is starting an in- depth probe into the Android operating system for mobile phones. The separate investigation will look at whether Google hindered the development of rival applications or potentially competing versions of Android, the EU said.

While fines are often the next step for recipients of SOs, they aren’t inevitable. Microsoft Corp. avoided a penalty by promising regulators to give users a choice of web browsers in 2009 as part of a settlement of the case.

But breaking such a pledge comes with a high cost: 561 million euros ($594 million) in fines for Microsoft in 2013 when it failed to offer the browser choice in an update for some 28 million computers.

The EU has been threatening Google with objections for years if it failed to squeeze better terms during settlement talks. Three offers from Google failed to win backing from rivals, who said they wouldn’t resolve antitrust concerns.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager made clear today that she is still willing to consider a settlement, saying that “every road” is open to an offer from Google.

If Google is fined or forced to make changes it opposes, the search engine giant could file an appeal at the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg.


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Google Inc. will finally get to see what the European Commission thinks it's doing wrong when it reads the hundreds of pages of legal analysis and evidence that make up a formal statement of objections, or SO.The SO allows the EU to set out its case, laying out where...
google, antitrust, suit, europe
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2015-13-15
Wednesday, 15 Apr 2015 09:13 AM
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