The US Federal Trade Commission has been granted a temporary restraining order against Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard. This means the deal is now officially on hold until the courts can rule on the FTC's request for a preliminary injunction against the closure of the deal—which is itself a temporary measure aimed at halting the deal until the FTC's legal challenge against the acquisition is completed.
As reported by The Verge, the FTC filed for the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on June 12, apparently out of concern that Microsoft would move to close the deal despite UK regulators ruling against it. The proposed acquisition has been approved in numerous other jurisdictions, including the European Union and China. The UK ruling is currently under appeal, while in the US a lawsuit filed by the FTC in December 2022 is still working its way through the courts.
"Until recently, Defendants indicated that they would not complete the proposed acquisition unless and until they received clearance from European regulators, including in proceedings before this Court in a private case challenging the proposed acquisition," the FTC's filing states. Following the decision by the UK's Competitions and Markets Authority to block the deal, however, "Press reports began circulating suggesting that Defendants were seriously contemplating closed the proposed acquisition despite the pending administrative litigation and the CMA orders."
Because of that, the FTC requested a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction blocking the deal until those matters can be settled, and today the court agreed, issuing a TRO to keep everything as-is until all the legal wrangling is over. The order means Microsoft and Activision cannot close their deal "until after 11:59 pm PT on the fifth business day after the court rules on the FTC's request for a preliminary injunction."
If the court grants the preliminary injunction, then everything will go into a holding pattern until the FTC's full complaint is heard, ruled on, and if necessary appealed to whatever extent is possible. If it does not, though, then I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Microsoft stand on it, get the deal done, and sort out the details after.
Activision and the FTC both declined to comment on the ruling, but in a blog post that went up yesterday Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said he welcomed the move, which "accelerates the legal process" and gives the company "the opportunity to more quickly present the facts about our merger."
"Our excellent legal team has been preparing for this move for more than a year, and we're ready to present our case to a federal judge who can evaluate the transaction on the merits," Kotick wrote. "The facts are on our side, and we will continue to keep you updated throughout the process."
He was certainly right about the FTC's action accelerating the process: Microsoft and Activision have been ordered to submit their opposition to the preliminary injunction request by June 16, the FTC has until June 20 to submit its reply, and the evidentiary hearing on the preliminary injunction request has been set for June 22 and 23.