SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google's $12.5 billion acquisition of cellphone maker Motorola Mobility has won approval of European antitrust regulators, moving Google one step closer to completing the biggest deal in its 13-year history.
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement Monday that regulators didn't believe the transaction itself raised any competitive problems.
The blessing means Google Inc. now only needs government approval in the U.S., China, Taiwan and Israel before it can close a deal announced six months ago.
Google has indicated it expects the other regulatory reviews to be completed soon, saying it hopes to take control of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. early this year.
"This is an important milestone in the approval process and it moves us closer to closing the deal," Don Harrison, Google's deputy general counsel wrote in a blog post
Google is counting on Motorola's more than 17,000 patents to help shield its Android operating system from lawsuits alleging intellectual theft.
In granting its approval, the European Union raised concerns about Motorola's aggressive enforcement of its patents
"The Commission will continue to keep a close eye on the behavior of all market players in the sector, particularly the increasingly strategic use of patents," Almunia said.
Earlier this month, the Commission launched an investigation into whether Samsung is using some of its key patents to hinder competitors. Like Motorola, Google is also locked in a globe-spanning legal battle with Apple, claiming the maker of the iPad and iPhone is using some of its patents without permission. At the time, Almunia's office indicated that similar investigations against over companies may follow.
But the commission decided to treat its examination of the merger separately from potential concerns it may have over Motorola's patent enforcement.
It said it sees no danger that Google Inc. will prevent other device makers from using its popular Android operating system after the takeover.
"Android helps to drive the spread of Google's other services," the Commission said. "Given that Google's core business model is to push its online and mobile services and software to the widest possible audience, it is unlikely that Google would restrict the use of Android solely to Motorola," which only has a small market share in Europe.
It said it also sees no competition problems in Google owning Motorola's patents for 3G and other wireless technology that other device makers will need for their products to function properly on modern networks.
"Access to such 'standard essential' patents is ... crucial for players on the smartphone market," the Commission said, but it added that the "would not significantly change the existing market situation in this respect."
Steinhauser reported from Brussels.