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Google board member steps down

October 13, 2009|Cecilia Kang

An executive who sat on the boards of Google Inc. and Apple Inc. resigned Monday from his post at the online search-engine leader, ending a probe by the Federal Trade Commission into the overlapping board memberships at the Silicon Valley companies.

Arthur Levinson, chairman of biotechnology firm Genentech, had served on Google's board for five years. He remains a director at Apple.

His departure followed Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt's resignation from Apple's board in August.

In a statement, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz commended the companies and Levinson "for their willingness to resolve our concerns without the need for litigation."

Allowing the same person to serve on the boards of two companies that directly compete against each other is a violation of the federal Clayton Antitrust Act, according to legal experts.

Google has contended that its primary business, its search engine, does not directly compete with Apple's main focus as a maker of desktop and laptop computers, iPhones and iPods.

But the relationship between the longtime allies has become increasingly tense.

Google has unveiled plans for a computer operating system that would compete with Apple's Mac computers. Google also makes operating software that runs on cellphones, putting it in competition with the iPhone.

And the Federal Communications Commission recently began an investigation of Apple's decision to keep Google from offering its Google Voice call-routing and messaging service on the iPhone.

"This may be the FTC saying that while there might not presently be overlap in competition, we think there is a serious future competitive problem," said Bruce Hoffman, antitrust attorney at the law firm Hunton & Williams.

Google didn't give an explanation for Levinson's departure, which was effective immediately.

"Art has been a key part of Google's success these past five years, offering unvarnished advice and vital counsel on every big issue and opportunity Google has faced," Schmidt said in a statement.

Apple directors Al Gore and Bill Campbell remain advisors to Google.

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Kang writes for the Washington Post.

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