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June 28, 2011 7:37 PM

Report: Google Adding to Antitrust Bench Ahead of Possible Probe

Posted by Brian Baxter

Google is assembling a formidable legal team to face down a potential antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into whether the company used its Internet search dominance to stifle competition, Reuters reports.

News emerged late last week that the FTC was preparing to issue subpoenas to Google as part of an antitrust investigation of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which operates the Internet's leading search engine.

But some competitors, most notably software giant Microsoft and its lawyers from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, claim that Google is unfairly pressing its advantage in its search and Web advertising businesses with anticompetitive behavior.

On Tuesday, 1plusV, a French Internet company, said it would file an antitrust suit against Google seeking $421 million in damages over income it claims was lost as a result of Google's actions. The suit, later filed with the Commercial Court of Paris, is the largest of its kind against Google in Europe. French firm Bredin Prat is representing 1plusV in the case.

Reuters reports that one of Google's outside antitrust advisers as it deals with growing outside pressure--the company refused to let senior executives testify before a Senate antitrust hearing last week--is Jeffrey Blattner, a former federal prosecutor who handled the government's litigation against Microsoft in the late nineties. (The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, reported in April on the similarities between the Microsoft case a decade ago and the current calls for action against Google.)

Blattner, who declined to comment when contacted by The Am Law Daily, reportedly was part of a contingent of Google representatives that attended a briefing for the American Antitrust Institute earlier this year. Blattner, a former Hogan & Hartson partner, now runs his own consulting business in Washington, D.C., called Legal Policy Solutions.

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is longtime outside counsel to Google. Chief legal officer David Drummond was a corporate partner at the firm when he was first introduced to the startup company in 1998. He became Google's chief outside counsel and joined the company full-time in 2002.

Wilson Sonsini figures to be involved this time around as well, Reuters reports, having helped Google obtain FTC approval of its $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007. Wilson Sonsini also guided Google through an important books deal in 2009 and provided corporate and antitrust counsel to the company on its $700 million acquisition of travel software company ITA last year. (Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider also served as antitrust counsel to Google on the ITA transaction.)

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton also advised Google on the ITA deal, and the firm also helped Google obtain antitrust approval from the FTC a year ago on its $750 million acquisition of mobile phone advertising provider AdMob.

One or more of the firms mentioned above are likely to take roles on the FTC's latest review of Google. Microsoft's lawyers already are handicapping their opposition.

"I would expect it to be Wilson Sonsini plus one, or two," Cadwalader antitrust partner Jonathan Kanter told Reuters.

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