THE Federal Trade Commission's antitrust investigation of Google spells the end of the smartphone patent wars, a global conflict in which Apple, Samsung and Google have spent billions amassing patent portfolios and then suing and countersuing one another in courts around the world.
The FTC's investigation mainly focused on Google's lucrative search business, while its inquiry into the tech giant's handling of patents seemed an afterthought.
Yet even as Google made only a few voluntary promises on search, it agreed to a legal settlement on patents that Jon Leibowitz, the commission's chairman, called a "landmark enforcement action" that applies to huge high-tech markets such as smartphones and tablet computers.
Legal experts say the Google settlement with the FTC signals progress in clarifying the rules of engagement in high-tech patent battles, and thus could ease them.
"The agreement represents a significant stride forward in reducing the confusion and uncertainty that currently surrounds how these patents can be used," said Colleen Chien, a patent expert at the Santa Clara University Law School.
The commission settlement with Google focused on patents covering communications and data-transmission technologies that are crucial for the basic operation of smartphones and tablets - what are known as standard-essential patents.
The legal gamesmanship of the epic smartphone patent battles, say technology experts, consumes time and investment that could be better used to develop new products.
"Today's commission action will also relieve companies of some of the costly and inefficient burden of hoarding patents for purely defensive purposes, savings that we hope can be invested in job-creating research and development," Mr Leibowitz said.
Under the settlement, Google has agreed to license its standard-essential patents to other companies on "fair and reasonable" terms. Google also agreed not to seek court injunctions to halt the shipment of smartphones, tablets and other devices that use its standard patents.