FTC Loses Appeals Court Bid To Temporarily Block Microsoft-Activision Deal

In a victory for Microsoft, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 9th Circuit late on Friday denied the Federal Trade Commission’s motion to temporarily stop Microsoft from closing its $68.7 billion acquisition of video game publisher Activision Blizzard, CNBC reported.

Microsoft is still working to resolve concerns about the transaction from the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority. The two companies have been looking to close the deal by July 18.

“We appreciate the Ninth Circuit’s swift response denying the FTC’s motion to further delay the deal. This bring us another step closer to the finish line in this marathon of global regulatory reviews,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and vice chair, said in a statement.

A federal judge in San Francisco, after five days of court hearing, ruled against the FTC on Tuesday, and the federal filed its appeal on Wednesday…

…In an emergency motion filed with the 9th Circuit on Thursday, the FTC said the district judge “denied preliminary relief, applying the wrong legal standard: the court effectively required the FTC to prove its full case on the merits with the court as the arbiter of the merger’s legality.” The agency requested a temporary injunction while the court considered an appeal of the district court’s conclusion, CNBC reported.

The Wall Street Journal reported that an appeals court on Friday denied a last-ditch bid by the Federal Trade Commission to halt Microsoft’s planned $75 billion acquisition of videogame publisher Activision Blizzard.

In a brief order, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the FTC’s request for a court order that would have blocked Microsoft and Activision from merging while the agency appeals a July 11 decision by a trial court judge.

Friday’s order helps clear the way for Microsoft and Activision to close the merger, and puts pressure on the FTC to drop its appeal of the July 11 ruling.

In the July decision, U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley said the agency hadn’t shown that Microsoft’s ownership of Activision titles, including the hit shooter-game series “Call of Duty,” would hurt competition in the console or cloud-gaming markets.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the FTC declined to comment.

The Verge also reported the FTC appealed the decision by Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, and now the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied its request for emergency relief to prevent Microsoft from closing the deal until the result of the FTC’s appeal is complete.

Microsoft welcomed the denial late on Friday. “We appreciate the Ninth Circuit’s swift response denying the FTC’s motion to further delay the deal. This brings us another step closer to the finish line in this marathon of global regulatory reviews,” says Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of Microsoft, in a statement to The Verge.

According to The Verge, this means Microsoft is now free to close its Activision Blizzard deal after a temporary restraining order, part of Judge Corley’s order, expired at 11:59PM PT, Friday July 14. Microsoft has until July 18th to close its deal; otherwise, it may need to renegotiate terms with Activision Blizzard, pay $3 billion in breakup fees if Activision wants to walk away, or simply let the deal deadline naturally extend if both parties are happy to.

The Verge also reported that the UK’s Competitions and Market’s Authority blocked Microsoft’s deal earlier this year, citing competition fears in the emerging cloud gaming market. Both CMA and Microsoft have agreed to pause their legal battles to figure out how the transaction might be modified in order to address the CMA’s cloud gaming concerns.

In my opinion, I think Judge Corley, and the Ninth Circuit Court, made the right decision. Both appear to have determined that the FTC’s case was not enough for a judgement to be made in their favor, and have instead decided in favor of Microsoft.