European antitrust ruling on Google expected by late March

European antitrust regulators are reportedly poised to hand down a decision on Google's 'cooking' search results in late-March at the latest.

European antitrust regulators are reportedly poised to decide "around the end of March" whether they will file a formal complaint against Google for its dominant market search position.

Speaking to Reuters at the sidelines of a conference on Tuesday, the European Commission's antitrust commissioner Joaquin Almunia said: "I will receive comments from the case team towards the end of the first quarter. I do not expect anything sooner. Let us see."

So, maybe they weren't thumb-twiddling after all. Europe is still taking its time, mind you.

The European Commission's investigation began in late 2010 after a number of complaints were raised from other search engines and companies that Google pushed their results down in favour of its own.

All in all, there are 10 complainants that have issue with Google's search results.

Microsoft joined the queue of businesses complaining, arguing that the search giant "has taken to entrench its dominance in the markets for online search and search advertising to the detriment of European consumers".

But Microsoft has had its fair share of run-ins with European regulators. Not only has it had to pay hefty fines in antitrust matters alongside removing Windows Media Player from its operating systems, it was also forced in 2010 to offer a choice of browsers to Windows users in Europe.

But Google also has to face the music at home, with U.S. regulators breathing down the company's neck. It was recently reported that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation would also include Google+ 'social search' features in its investigation.

But don't expect a speedy result out of Europe any time soon.

While crunch time is looming, it could go either way, with a formal complaint, or with regulators dropping the whole case. It's likely that enough evidence has amounted to push for a complaint to go through, which could take 2--3 years -- if not longer -- to complete.

This upcoming March-expected ruling could lead to difficulties for Google's pending bid to acquire Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, in a bid to enhance its patent portfolio, and to create a hardware and operating system ecosystem for its Android phones.

But even that investigation was suspended, after the competition reviewers decided it might be a top-notch idea to ask the wider industry if they objected to the merger. If Europe declines the acquisition, it would effectively throw cold water on the deal in the U.S. as well.

Companies found breaking European antitrust rules can be fined up to 10 percent of their global turnover. In the case of Google, it could be in the region of $3--$4 billion (€2.3--€3.1 billion).

Image source: Flickr.