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Skyhook Sues Google in a Location Battle Royale

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Updated: Skyhook Wireless, the company that provides software and a database for determining location using nearby Wi-Fi signals, has sued Google (s goog) for interfering with its business and for patent infringement. The move underscores how important it is to control location data and monetize it as the mobile web becomes the platform for the next generation of technology innovation and investment. Skyhook is seeking an injunction on Google’s interfering actions and patent infringement as well as “millions of dollars” in damages.

Skyhook, which is based in Boston, filed a business interference lawsuit in the Massachusetts Superior Court in Boston today, and a patent infringement lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts after attempting to negotiate with Google. In the lawsuit alleging interference, Skyhook claims that Google took advantage of its relationship with handset manufacturers, including Motorola (s MOT), to block Skyhook’s positioning software from running on the device, which interfered with Skyhook’s contracts with Motorola and cost Skyhook millions. From the lawsuit:

Skyhook and Google are competitors in the location positioning space. There was a time when Google tried to compete fairly with Skyhook. But once Google realized its positioning technology was not competitive, it chose other means to undermine Skyhook and damage and attempt to destroy its position in the marketplace for location positioning technology. In complete disregard of its common-law and statutory obligations, and in direct opposition to its public messaging encouraging open innovation, Google wielded its control over the Android operating system, as well as other Google mobile applications such as Google Maps, to force device manufacturers to use its technology rather than that of Skyhook, to terminate contractual obligations with Skyhook, and to otherwise force device manufacturers to sacrifice superior end user experience with Skyhook by threatening directly or indirectly to deny timely and equal access to evolving versions of the Android operating system and other Google mobile applications.

In its second lawsuit, Skyhook alleges that Google is infringing on four of its patents, and requests an injunction on Google’s Wi-Fi location software as well as damages. In August, I had written that Skyhook was likely to sue to protect its IP, although I figured it might go after Apple (s aapl), the other mobile giant, as well. When asked if Skyhook anticipated filing other lawsuits, Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan declined to comment. He did say the lesson to be learned from his company’s experience is that while Android may be open source, the platform isn’t necessarily open.

“The message that Android is open is certainly not entirely true,” Morgan said. “Devices makers can license technology from other companies and then not be able to deploy it.”

Skyhook has enjoyed a run of success providing location capabilities for developers and device-makers. Earlier this year, the company hit a snag when Apple said it was using its own location technology on its newer devices. The company was also facing more competition from Google’s own location technology.

Google has not yet replied to requests for comment. Update: Google said it had not yet been served, so it could not yet comment on the suit.

Related GigaOm Pro Research (sub req’d): Location: The Epicenter of Mobile Innovation

17 Responses to “Skyhook Sues Google in a Location Battle Royale”

  1. Jeffrey A. Williams

    Sorry to see that Google again is using it’s market position in order to ‘Strong arm’ other perfictly ligitimate competing services for this space. None the less it is questionable if Skyhook has a ligitimate case here.

  2. Just this guy, you know?

    Yes, I wonder how they will manage to get a court to overlook the impossibly inaccurate and silly nature of their complaints.

    Even a passing understanding of the licenses and agreements involved would tell you that none of the things Google is supposed to have done… would work.

    I can’t see how you could make a case out of this unless your lawyer is closing her eyes and humming to herself and hoping that if she just believes, believes hard enough, the real world with its questions and reason and objective facts… will just go away.

  3. I just read today about how Layar, a popular app for Android, has started using the Skyhook SDK to get a more precise GPS location. If Google is forcing them to use Google’s own location service, how could Layar use Skyhook and get more precise results?

    • It’s a different case. The suit is about relationships between Skyhook, Google and Motorola around supplying location info to phones’ OS. Location apps can choose to use location info supplied by the OS or search for visible Wi-Fi spots and relay that info to their central servers. The latter seems to be what Layar does.

    • Skyhook’s interference suit against Google, filed in Massachusetts Superior Court in Suffolk County, accuses Google of intentionally disrupting Skyhook’s business relationships. It says Google has notified cellphone makers that they need to use Google’s location service as a condition of using Google’s Android smartphone operating system.

      Alleging a sort of ‘use Google’s location tech or we don’t let you use Android’ strongarming.