From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:
The Federal Trade Commission‘s antitrust investigation of Google is about to come to a head, by most accounts. But it’s a complex case touching on several aspects of antitrust law and whether Google’s search and other activities violate any of them, and the implications for Google, its investors, and Internet users could be huge.
Two attorneys intimately aware of the case provided contrasting views at a webinar this morning conducted by the investment firm International Strategy & Investment and its senior managing director Bill Whyman. Gary Reback is an antitrust lawyer most famous for representing Netscape in its antitrust case against Microsoft in the 1990s. He now represents several vertical-search companies, such as NexTag, that have complained about Google practices. Geoffrey Manne is a lecturer in law at Lewis & Clark Law School and executive director of the International Center for Law & Economics,which receives financial support from Google and other companies. He has written extensively about his belief that there is no strong antitrust case against Google.
The main takeaway: Despite a Bloomberg story last week that said the FTC was wavering and unlikely to attack Google’s core search business–and another today that repeats that assertion–there’s no agreement by the two sides on what the FTC will end up doing. Reback seemed to acknowledge that Google might find a way to maneuver politically around the FTC to avoid a full-scale assault on the way it conducts its search business. But he also noted that the European Union is closely watching the outcome and may act on its own if the FTC does nothing more than a settlement on the more minor issues.
One key point on timing: Press reports say there’s a Dec. 3 meeting between FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz & EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia. What’s more, Leibowitz is expected to leave for private practice around the end of the year, so that could affect the case one way or another. And if it means anything, Bloomberg says Google CEO Larry Page met with the FTC today. …