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Google's bid for Motorola Mobility approved by U.S., EU regulators

SAN FRANCISCO — Google's $12.5 billion acquisition of cellphone maker Motorola Mobility has won approval from U.S. and European antitrust regulators, moving Google a major step closer to completing the biggest deal in its 13-year history.

The blessings mean Google just needs to clear a few more regulatory hurdles before it can take control of Motorola Mobility Holdings and expand into manufacturing phones, tablet computers and possibly other consumer devices for the first time.

Motorola Mobility's $12.5 billion price is more than the combined amount that Google has paid for the 185 other acquisitions that it has completed since going public in 2004.

Google is counting on Motorola Mobility's more than 17,000 patents — a crucial weapon in an intellectual arms race with Apple, Microsoft and other rivals to gain more control over smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.

The Justice Department ended a six-month review of the deal after concluding it won't stifle competition in the mobile device market. European regulators reached the same conclusion.

In granting its approval, though, the European Union raised concerns about Motorola's aggressive enforcement of its patents. EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said regulators will "keep a close eye on the behavior of all market players in the sector, particularly the increasingly strategic use of patents."

The main concerns are believed to revolve around Google's Android operating system, free software that now powers more than 250 million mobile devices made by a variety of manufacturers, including Motorola Mobility. Competition could be hurt if Google gives Motorola Mobility the most advanced versions of Android or withholds the mobile software from other cellphone makers. Google, though, has pledged to make Android available to all of its mobile partners.

Google still needs government approvals in China, Taiwan and Israel.

Getting China's approval of the Motorola Mobility deal may prove to be the biggest hurdle. Google's relationship with China's ruling party has been on shaky ground since the company blamed hackers in that country for breaking into its computers two years ago. The breach prompted Google to move its Internet search engine from mainland China in protest of laws requiring that some results be censored.

Without setting a specific timetable, Google has expressed confidence it will be able to take over Motorola Mobility early this year.

It already has been six months since Google announced plans to buy Motorola Mobility, which has been struggling as Apple's iPhone and other smartphones made by rivals such as Samsung Electronics overshadowed its line of products.

Google's bid for Motorola Mobility approved by U.S., EU regulators 02/13/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 13, 2012 10:51pm]
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