The announced departure of John Doerr from the Amazon board is reportedly linked to an FTC inquiry.
SAN FRANCISCO — Last month, John Doerr, one of America’s most celebrated venture capitalists, announced that he would step down from the board of Amazon, a company that he helped to finance and build. At the time, Amazon said Doerr “has decided not to stand for re-election and will focus more of his time on new ventures.”
But people with direct knowledge of the matter who would not speak for attribution because they were not authorized to discuss it, now say Doerr’s decision was prompted by a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into the relationship between Amazon and Google, where Doerr is also a director.
It was not clear whether the commission had begun a preliminary inquiry or a formal investigation, or whether it was still probing.
Doerr did not respond to a request for comment. Amazon and Google also declined to comment.
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This is the second time in a year that the commission has taken aim at the board-level relationships between Google and its rivals, signaling a more aggressive approach by the agency to antitrust matters.
The actions also demonstrate that the two Internet companies’ expansion into new areas will inevitably generate new legal frictions as it generates new business.
This is particularly true with Google, which has expanded in several directions — cellphones, operating-system software, social networks, cloud computing — that have created rivalries with companies that once thought they were in entirely isolated markets.
Last year, the commission began an antitrust investigation into ties between Google and Apple. At the time they shared two directors: Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief, and Arthur Levinson, the former chief executive of Genentech. Antitrust law generally bars companies with rival businesses from having “interlocking directorates.”
The investigation led to the resignations of Schmidt from the Apple board and Levinson from the Google board.
Robert Schroeder, the commission’s regional director in Seattle, declined to discuss specific companies.
While Amazon remains primarily an e-commerce company and Google an online advertising company, competition between them has intensified in recent years. Each offers so-called cloud computing services, which let startups and other companies run their applications on Amazon’s or Google’s servers.
What’s more, the two are quickly becoming rivals in the competitive electronic-book market, where Amazon has built a leadership position with the success of its Kindle e-book reader.
Google is trying to make inroads in the business through its book-digitization project and book-search service.
Amazon went to court to try to block a proposed settlement between Google and groups representing authors and publishers that would pave the way for Google to create the world’s largest digital bookstore and library. The settlement awaits court approval.
More attention to the issue of interlocking boards could lead to headaches for more companies in Silicon Valley, where venture capitalists and executives often sit on the boards of companies engaged in “coopetition,” a mix of cooperation and competition.
Some industry insiders say a possible next target is the relationship between Google and Intel, which has teamed up with Nokia to build a software platform called MeeGo for cellphones, in competition with Google’s Android.
That could create an awkward situation for Paul Otellini, Intel’s chief executive, who sits on the board of Google.