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WASHINGTON, (Reuters): A U.S. judge hearing the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit accusing Google of illegally maintaining a monopoly on the Internet search market struck down key claims by the federal government.
Google, a unit of Alphabet, had asked for summary judgment on all of the government’s claims in the case.
US Judge Amit Mehta, in a decision made public in Washington on Friday, granted Google’s request on some grounds but allowed the rest of the claims to proceed to trial next month.
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The Justice Department sued Google in 2020, accusing the $1.6 trillion company of illegally using its marketing muscle to thwart rivals in the biggest challenge to Big Tech’s power and influence since it sued Microsoft Corp in 1998.
Mehta is also hearing a case against Google by the attorneys general of 38 states and territories.
Mehta dismissed allegations by the states that Google made it more difficult for Internet users to find specialized search engines, such as Expedia for travel or OpenTable for restaurants, saying the states “have not demonstrated the necessary anticompetitive effect in the relevant market.”
Google said Friday that it appreciated the court’s “careful consideration and decision to dismiss claims regarding the design of Google Search” in the case brought by the states.
“We look forward to demonstrating at trial that the marketing and distribution of our services is both legal and pro-competitive,” added Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel.
Google has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
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Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said he was pleased with Mehta’s opinion, adding, “We will continue to evaluate how we can best move forward and establish Google’s pattern of illegal conduct that harms consumers and competition.”
Mehta noted that Google LLC operates America’s largest general internet search engine whose “brand has become so ubiquitous that dictionaries recognize it as a verb.” He noted that Google in 2020 had nearly 90 percent market share and that advertisers spend over $80 billion annually to reach general search users alone.
“A corporation with monopoly power acts unlawfully only when its conduct stifles competition,” Mehta wrote.
Mehta also said the government must show that every single action — such as Google’s handling of search advertising — is a violation of antitrust laws. This means that the government cannot show a series of actions and claim that these cumulatively violate the antitrust laws.
The government, which filed its lawsuit in the waning days of the Trump administration, has alleged that Google illegally paid billions of dollars each year to smartphone makers such as Apple, LG, Motorola and Samsung, carriers such as Verizon and default browsers such as Mozilla. search for their customers. Mehta declined to discard that argument.
The Justice Department did not immediately comment.
In late April, a U.S. judge in Virginia denied Google’s motion to dismiss a separate Justice Department antitrust case focused on advertising technology, saying the government’s case was strong enough to move forward.
The government has argued that Google should be forced to sell its ad management suite. Google has also denied wrongdoing in this case.