Members of FairSearch, the coalition of travel and tech companies created to oppose the Google’s acquisition of ITA Software, appeared to struggle to contain their glee after winning what they believes are major concessions to the deal.
Meanwhile,Â in a blog post,Â Jeff Huber, senior vice president for commerce and local atÂ Google,Â could also barely stop himself from metaphorically breaking out the champagne (“Up, up and away!”).
Huber should’ve just headed down to DC and joined the FairSearchers included in the press conference for a toast to the Department of Justice, such was the apparent joy being experienced by everyone involved.
But those watching events as they unfolded over theÂ past nine months, as lobbyists, friendly senators and sources on both sides worked feverishly to influence media opinion or halt, radically alter or push the deal through unscathed, might now be scratching their heads as to why everyone appears so happy.
Tom Barnett (counsel to Expedia), Patrick Lynch (former attorney general) and Robert Birge (chief marketing officer at Kayak), all speaking on behalf of the FairSearch group, were quick to praise the Department of Justice for producing “a clear win for consumers and competition in the marketplace”.
The concessions obtained as part of the settlement were a victory for those concerned that the deal in its original form would have violated antitrust laws.
Google’s new competitors in the travel industry (yes, they can be called that now), which are existing ITA customers (such as Kayak, Microsoft’s Bing), will continue to have access to the famed QPX technology, a commitment to research, commercial data protection and a mechanism to enforce oversight if Google is deemed to be in breach of the conditions.
These were important contractual problems seemingly now resolved.
Speaking after the FairSearch press conference, Birge said the outcome has forced Google to renege on some key issues which emerged since the deal was first announced in July 2010.
“We asked Google in a normal business context for assurances that we’d continue to have access to QPX and the on-going upgrades to QPX, and that they would protect our proprietary usage of ITA that’s based on our own patent-pending technology. They simply said no. This idea that they said that they would ‘honor all existing agreements’ was further spin – I could have reworded that as: ‘We are legally obligated to honor the legally-binding contracts that existing licensees hold, but we reserve the right to shut them off once their contracts have expired’.”
FairSearch members appear to have got what they wanted.
Now look at it all from the other side.Â The problems many had with the acquisition seemed to focus primarily on two issues – contractual and so-called search discrimination.
It is worth noting that the concessions Google has made in order to get the deal passed by the authorities are almost exclusively around contractual problems, rather than search discrimination.
The DoJ appears to have pretty much given Google a free pass here on the latter. In fact, so-called search discrimination is, in some respects, just another phrase for “don’t like having a competitor” – something that the DoJ could hardly rule against.
And this, now that the deal is approved and Google gears up to start playing with its prized asset, is at the heart of the issue.
Members of FairSearch get their contractual concessions, but Google – despite having to be nice to ITA’s existing customers until 2016 – still gets what it REALLY wanted: the chance to become a enormous force in a search vertical.
That rather lucrative vertical called travel search.Â So which team really won?