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Google to bid on AOL?

An analyst report speculates that the search giant may want to pre-empt a Microsoft takeover of the Time Warner unit.

Google could try to bid for America Online to pre-empt a Microsoft takeover and protect the $380 million in revenue Google gets from its biggest partner, according to an analyst.

"We believe it is entirely possible that Google could consider making a bid for AOL as well," Lauren Rich Fine, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, wrote in a Friday report on the implications of an AOL-Microsoft Network deal. "This would certainly protect Google's revenues from AOL as well as enable Google to keep 100 percent of the search advertising revenues as well as gain a significant amount of content."

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Microsoft was in talks with AOL's parent Time Warner on merging AOL with MSN and other options as a way to counter the serious competitive threat Google poses in the portal and search market.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that AOL may be considering switching its search engine from Google to MSN, which could cut Google's earnings per share by between 5 percent and 10 percent, the report said. AOL generated about 12 percent of Google's revenues in 2004, or $382 million.

Google began providing search services for AOL in 2002, replacing Overture, which was acquired by Yahoo. In 2003, Google and AOL broadened their agreement. Google pays AOL every time someone clicks on one of its sponsored links and lets advertisers bid for the AOL search result placements for specific keywords users enter.

The Merrill Lynch note came within days after Google raised $4.1 billion in a secondary stock offering.

Google declined to comment. (Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)

A Time Warner representative declined to comment, and an AOL representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment.