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Adobe exec David Wadhwani expresses frustration over slow deal approval

David Wadhwani, president of digital media at Adobe, speaks during The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Tech Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Oct. 17, 2023.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

Adobe executive David Wadhwani wonders whether expensive technology acquisitions should take as long as they are to receive approval from government regulators, he said on Tuesday at the WSJ Tech live event in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Adobe, the maker of design software, is working to complete its $20 billion acquisition of Figma, which people use to collaborate on the design of apps and websites. The two companies announced the tie-up in 13 months ago, and they’ve been dealing with investigations from the U.S. Department of Justice and regulatory bodies in the United Kingdom and in the European Union.

The comments come a week after Microsoft closed its $69 billion purchase of game publisher Activision Blizzard, nearly 21 months after disclosing plans for that deal. Microsoft lawyers dealt with pressure from the same three jurisdictions as Adobe, and they took on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission before a district court judge in San Francisco before ultimately winning approval to move forward.

Adobe has said it expects to close the Figma deal in 2023.

On Tuesday, Wadhwani, president of Adobe’s digital media business that includes the subscription-based Creative Cloud, and the key executive driving the transaction, said the company now expects to hear back from regulators in the next few months. The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority says the statutory deadline for the current stage of its inquiry is Dec. 31, 2023. Adobe has agreed to pay Figma $1 billion if regulators reject the deal, or if it isn’t completed by mid-March 2024.

“The question we should be asking is, should it take this long — from a regulatory process, should it take this long to have the conversations?” Wadhwani said, adding that it’s important to be able to move quickly with innovation.

Tools for creative expression, documents and marketing all represent growth opportunities for Adobe, and Figma is the fourth leg of the stool, Wadhwani said.

Since revealing its intent to buy Figma, Adobe has been busy releasing and promoting tools for generative artificial intelligence that can develop images and other content in response to a few words of human input. Wadhwani said he thinks there’s an opportunity for Figma to do more generative AI when it comes to automatically creating designs for software. But he said he didn’t want to speak for Dylan Field, Figma’s co-founder and CEO.

“We’re not a combined company,” Wadhwani said.

The Competition and Markets Authority has been trying to figure out if the deal would substantially lessen competition. The group found that Adobe is still offering to customers customers its XD screen-design tool that competes with Figma, even if it was put in “maintenance mode.” Adobe replied that “in an innovative and dynamic market XD cannot be considered a ‘material’ competitor to Figma.”

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