Google Up Against Laws That Thwarted Microsoft (and Others Since 1890)

Others insisted that the technological shift toward the internet and away from the personal computer meant that Microsoft lost the gatekeeper power it once held. Technology, not antitrust, opened the door to competition, they said.

The Justice Department, in its suit and in a briefing with reporters, was vague about what remedies the government would propose if it won the case. But at this stage, Google is so dominant in search that giving consumers the choice to select another search engine may not make much of a difference.

Google is regarded not only as a search service that provides relevant results, but as a verb — what people think of as internet search. Given a choice, they might well choose Google, and the company would argue that was because it was a superior product that people preferred.

“It’s hard to argue that this case, whatever the outcome, will really change the competitive landscape in search,” said A. Douglas Melamed, a former senior official in the Justice Department’s antitrust division, who is a professor at the Stanford Law School.

The standard critique of antitrust law, with its lengthy court battles, is that it is late and slow, unsuited to addressing anticompetitive concerns in fast-moving high-tech markets. That is a genuine concern, legal experts said.

Still, filing the suit this week could make a difference, they agreed.

“A suit like this one does send signals to the market and to the firm itself about what kind of competitive behavior is acceptable,” said Scott Hemphill, a professor at New York University Law School.

Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting.