Skip to main content

Yahoo’s Google Hug Defense: Is That Legal?

The key to Yahoo! chief Jerry Yang’s apparently successful attempt to avoid being Microserfed was the threat to enter into a partnership with Google. Under the proposal, Yahoo! would outsource to Google important paid search terms, a move that struck many as all but admitting that Yahoo was incompetent at monetizing search terms and that seems to have driven away Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer.
It was a cagey move but is it legal? Can the management of a public company targeted for opposition adopt a perhaps suicidal business plan to drive away suitor? Maybe not. Although Delaware courts—which, for quirky federalist reasons, get to decide these things—give companies broad leeway to undertake defensive measures, there are supposed to be limits to this sort of thing. Stephen Bainbridge, one of our favorite law professors, explains that Yang’s takeover defense might be acceptable to Delaware courts if he could prove it was part of Yahoo’s long-term business plan. But that seems implausible—everyone knows they came up with this as an ad-hoc defense.
If Microsoft really wanted to get hostile, they might have actually been able to get a Delaware court to stop Yahoo from running into the arms of Google.

Using a strategic partnership as a poison pill