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No ‘Substantive’ Settlement Talks With US FTC on Activision Deal: Lawyer

There are no “substantive” settlement discussions under way between US President Joe Biden’s administration and Microsoft to resolve a legal dispute over the Xbox maker’s $69 billion (roughly Rs. 5,71,900 crore) bid for games maker Activision Blizzard, a Federal Trade Commission attorney said on Tuesday.

The FTC, which enforces antitrust law, asked a judge to block the transaction in early December, arguing it would give Microsoft’s Xbox exclusive access to Activision games, leaving Nintendo consoles and Sony’s PlayStation out in the cold.

FTC attorney James Weingarten, speaking in a brief telephonic pretrial hearing, said there were no “substantive” settlement discussions between the two sides under way.

Microsoft argues that the deal would benefit gamers and gaming companies alike, offering to sign a legally binding consent decree with the FTC to provide Call of Duty games to rivals including Sony for a decade.

The case reflects the muscular approach to antitrust enforcement being taken by the administration of US President Joe Biden. But antitrust experts say the FTC faces an uphill battle to convince a judge to block the deal, because of the voluntary concessions offered by Microsoft to allay fears it could dominate the gaming market.

Michael Chappell, the FTC administrative law judge, will rule on the deal after hearings set for August 2023. Either side can then appeal to the same FTC commissioners who voted to bring the challenge, and then to a U.S. appeals court.

The deal faces scrutiny in the European Union which is to decide by March 23 whether to clear or block the deal.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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