Google Hit With Antitrust Suit Alleging Android Monopoly
Google is being sued over its alleged policies that force smartphone makers to load lesser-desired Google apps on devices so that they can also pre-load popular Google apps such as YouTube on devices that run Android.
The lawsuit, filed May 1 in federal court in San Jose, Calif., was brought by the owner of an HTC EVO 3D smartphone who alleges that "Google's restrictions on Android made the phone more expensive," according to a May 2 report on the case by Bloomberg News.
In addition, such policies by Google are "designed to maintain and extend its monopolies" by allegedly forcing smartphone makers to place non-desired apps on Android phones just to use Android, the plaintiffs alleged in their complaint, Bloomberg reported. Those rules are part of Android "mobile application distribution agreements," or MADAs, that the device makers have to accept to use Android, the article reported.
"Google's expansion of its monopoly in search on smartphones, which helps through paid search-related advertisements to generate billions of dollars of profit a year, is 'not merely a function of having built a better search engine,'" the lawsuit states, according to Bloomberg. "The 'secret' MADAs require that each Android device maker 'pre-loads onto prime screen real estate all of the apps in the suite, whether the manufacturer wants them or not,'" the complaint states.
The lawsuit was filed by the Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.
The MADAs were apparently not well-known until "Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman wrote about them on his blog and voiced concerns about anti-competitive behavior similar to the claims in the lawsuit," according to Bloomberg.
In an email reply to an eWEEK inquiry about the lawsuit, an unidentified Google spokesperson wrote, "Anyone can use Android without Google and anyone can use Google without Android. Since Android's introduction, greater competition in smartphones has given consumers more choices at lower prices. Regulators in the U.S. and abroad have already examined our Android agreements and found no cause for legal concern."
In a Reuters article, Steve Berman, the attorney representing consumers in the lawsuit, "alleged that Google had not achieved its monopoly by offering a better search engine, but through anti-competitive placement and market manipulation."
In February 2014, Google was sued by a German design and engineering company over allegations that its Google Earth product infringes on the patents held for a similar product invented by the company, ART+COM, back in 1994. The lawsuit claims Google Earth displays "a remarkable similarity to the Terravision system developed by ART+COM in the '90s and whose technology its inventors had patented back then," according to a statement from Berlin-based ART+COM.
The lawsuit alleges that "Google Earth can be traced directly to ACI's patented method through Google Earth's 'development' history, including current executives." The complaint also alleges that "Google Earth bears remarkable similarities to ART+COM's commercial system, which was developed nearly a decade prior to Google's introduction of Google Earth."
ART+COM's lawsuit alleges that two of Google's current executives—Michael Jones, the chief technical officer of Google Earth, and Brian McClendon, the head of the Google Geo Group and vice president of engineering for Google Maps, "previously worked for companies that had access to information regarding the implementation of Terravision."
Terravision "is a networked virtual representation of the Earth based on satellite images, aerial shots, altitude data and architectural data" that "serves as an environment to organize and access information spatially" when accessed by users. "Users can navigate seamlessly from overviews of the Earth to extremely detailed objects and buildings."
Google Earth began as a Google service in 2005 after Google's 2004 acquisition of Keyhole Inc., which previously created a product called EarthViewer 3D, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges that ART+COM executives have in the past actively communicated with Google since 2006 about concerns relating to possible patent infringement involving Google Earth, but that those communications have never resolved the matter.
ART+COM is asking the court to find Google guilty of willful patent infringement in the case and is seeking unspecified damages and attorney's fees in the case.