January 28, 2011, 11:44 PM — When last we heard about the U.S. Department of Justice's probe into search giant Google's proposed $700 million purchase of flight-data company ITA Software, the feds were under a Google-triggered deadline to consider whether they should file an antitrust lawsuit.
That was two weeks ago. Now both parties are trying to work out an agreement that would head off a court challenge, according to the Wall Street Journal.
One proposal being kicked around, the WSJ reports, "is having Google agree to a form of compulsory licensing that would prevent it from withholding ITA's flight data from competitors. But the details of such an agreement are complex because of the fast-changing nature of the sector."
Those competitors include Microsoft, Expedia (which operates TripAdvisor and Hotwire), Kayak.com, Sabre Holdings and Farelogix, all of which want the Justice Department to kill Google's deal with ITA because they argue it would give the search company an unfair advantage in the online travel industry.
And while Google has crossed-its-heart-hope-to-die promised to continue offering ITA data to its competitors, the feds think putting it all in writing as part of a consent decree would be a swell idea.
Google announced the ITA acquisition last July and has grown increasingly impatient with the regulatory process. In December the company invoked a provision of federal law that basically gave the Justice Department 30 days to decide whether to challenge the deal.
ITA is the dominant software player in the online air-travel industry, booking nearly two-thirds of web-based flight bookings, so getting the green light would put Google in a powerful position within yet another online sector.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.