Google has found itself at the sharp end of a U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probe since June, and it could soon face an antitrust lawsuit from the agency.
According to sources familiar with the matter and speaking with Bloomberg, FTC staff has recommended commissioners pursue an antitrust lawsuit against Google for allegedly blocking competitor access to certain key smartphone patents.
A majority of the commission's five members are in favor of a suit, the sources said, though a final decision probably won't be made until after the Nov. 6 election.
The investigation is separate from another FTC probe into whether Google has illegally used its search market dominance to promote itself and its businesses while harming competition.
In that case, four out of five commissioners are reportedly "convinced" of Google's violations, though a formal decision hasn't been made.
In the patent antitrust case, the FTC has looked into whether Google's efforts to block U.S. imports of Microsoft, Apple and other companies' products is illegal.
Google has claimed devices made by those firms, which depend on industry-standard technology to work, infringe on patents owned by Motorola Mobility, a Google company.
The patents in question cover 3G wireless, Wi-Fi and video streaming. Google, the FTC staff has apparently discovered, did not offer to license those patents on fair and reasonable terms.
Industry-standard technology allows products from different manufacturers - like mobile phone antennas and GPS software - to work together.
Patent-holding companies reportedly pledge to license patents covering those technologies on reasonable terms.
All's far in products and patents
Also at issue is Google's continued pursuit of litigation started by Motorola over industry-standard patents before Google became owner of the company.
Depending on the outcome, those lawsuits could block imports of devices like Microsoft's Xbox and Apple's iPhone and iPad.
According to one analyst, there's an emerging sentiment among antitrust regulators to treat standard essential patent violators more severely.
If that's the case, Google might want to start exploring out-of-court settlements as soon as possible.