April 16 (Reuters) - The European Commission has served Google with a writ accusing it of breaking EU antitrust law by abusing its dominance in Internet searches to promote its own shopping service - a charge the U.S. tech giant denies.
Though little is certain, here is an indicative timeline of the next steps, based on similar past cases and indications from sources familiar with the Google investigation.
April 15 - Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager says she sent Google a Statement of Objections, a charge sheet, after a five-year investigation into alleged abuses dating from 2008. Vestager, who began a visit to Washington on Thursday, began her job on Nov. 1 and has startled observers by her swift action.
Late May - End of 10-week period Google has to respond to the charges, explaining why it has not broken the law. However, companies are often granted extensions. That could run into the Commission’s August break putting the next step into September.
May-July - Commission sends copies of confidential charge sheet to competitors which have complained, after having agreed with Google on redactions to protect its business secrets. There are 19 official complainants, at least four of them American - Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Yelp.
Sept-Oct - Google is likely to exercise its right to an oral hearing with Vestager, in camera. The Commission will also accept submissions on the charge sheet from the complainants.
Oct-Nov - Following an oral hearing, Google might well make a new offer, its fourth since 2010, to change its practices and avoid further penalties. There could be a period of negotiation, possibly a further offer, before Vestager makes a ruling.
End-2015 - Having marked herself out from her predecessor by swiftly moving to charge Google, many observers question whether Vestager will be willing to accept any offer Google would make. If she does not, she can order it to change its methods and fine it up to 10 percent of its annual global sales of $66 billion.
2016 - If penalised, Google is likely to challenge that in the EU courts in Luxembourg, as Microsoft did over a decade ago. Such a case could last two years or so. The Commission has a record of winning and legal experts believe it will seek to set a precedent giving it more leverage over Google and other new technology companies in other areas of business in the future.
2015-2016 - Also this week, Vestager launched a formal probe of Google’s Android mobile operating system. Such investigations typically last several years before a decision on whether to press charges. Though in the Google Web search case it has taken five.
She could also add charges to the search case on other issues beyond shopping, such as hotels, flights and maps, as probes on those matters continue to gather evidence. (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee and Alastair Macdonald, editing by David Evans)