In November 2010, the EU launched an anti-trust investigation after having received complaints related to Google's abuse of dominant position in internet search services. Thomas Vinje, a lawyer from Clifford Chance working in the field of European competition and intellectual property law, discusses the progress of the anti-trust case. He also comments on the results of an impact study that FairSearch Europe(1) commissioned, following the second commitments proposed by Google to the European Commission on 21 October. This impact study was performed by Professors David Franklyn of the University of San Francisco and David Hyman of the University of Illinois and was published on 9 December.

Why is the anti-competitive situation specific to European customers and businesses?

In Europe, Google has a monopoly with an average market share of 95%. In the US, Microsoft and Yahoo! have 25% of the market, and are reasonable competitors. This level of competition makes a big difference in the way this competition case is approached. Definitely, this difference means a lot to Competition Commissioner Joaqiun Almunia, who is in charge of handling the case here in Europe.

Would a 70% market share in web search services be a fair target for Almunia?

Reducing market share would not be allowed under competition law in Europe. The objective of the investigation is to enable competition on a level playing field based on merit. If a dominant company is able to maintain its market share in reflection of fair competition, it does not deserve to be sued by competition authorities.

In the ongoing case, what would the next step be?

My impression is that the Commission will decide on the direction it will take, either opening a formal investigation or enforcing remedies, little before or after next February. The main question that remains is: could parties go for a third commitment proposal? I do not think that that will be the case, given that they have already been negotiating for almost a year, since 21 May 2012, when the first commitments were released.

What factors lead users to use Google rather than its competitors?

There is a combination of factors. First, there is a cultural factor. People like to google'. It is almost part of culture, but that is not enough to perpetuate Google's dominance. The strongest factor in maintaining its dominant position is that Google has such a gigantic scale advantage in data. I like to compare search engines to "learning...

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