Skyhook Says A Preliminary Injunction Against Google Could Help Level The Playing Field in the Mobile Location-Finding Space

[Updated 11/18/10] After lawyers from Google and Skyhook Wireless convened in court yesterday, a Massachusetts’ Suffolk County Superior Court judge is deliberating whether to prevent the Mountain View, CA-based Internet giant from issuing compatibility standards for its Android mobile phone platform that could largely keep Boston-based startup Skyhook out of the location-finding space.

The move comes as part of a lawsuit Skyhook filed against Google in September, where it alleges that the California company intentionally interfered with contracts Skyhook landed to get its technology into Motorola and Samsung Android phones. The complaint says that Google engaged in “unfair and deceptive trade practices.”

In a hearing Wednesday, Skyhook sought a preliminary injunction that would prevent Google from setting technology standards rules for its Android mobile phone platform that it says would unfairly exclude Skyhook’s technology. If enacted, the move could have both practical and philosophical implications for how Google determines what technology can go into Android phones. “Conceptually it’s very easy,” Skyhook lawyer Morgan Chu said at the hearing. “We want a level playing field.”

The Skyhook lawsuit contends that in order to promote Google Location Services, its own free system for the Android platform, Google interfered with contracts Skyhook landed with both Motorola and Samsung earlier this year that would have put Skyhook’s “XPS” location-finding system in their Android phones. Shortly after Skyhook landed the contracts, Google changed its definitions of what makes a device compatible with its Android platform, to define phones with the XPS software as non-compliant, Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan told Xconomy earlier this fall. (The lawsuit actually refers to the second mobile company as Company X, but the company’s identity as Samsung can be surmised from the case details, as Wade wrote in his recap of the litigation in September. The contract does not permit Skyhook to name Samsung directly.)

Soon after the Skyhook-Motorola contract was announced, Google vice president of engineering and Android overseer Andy Rubin called Motorola co-CEO Sanjay Jha to inform him that the company could not ship its Android phones with the Skyhook technology, Morgan said. Motorola shipped its phones with Google’s location-finding technology instead, a breach of contract that cost Skyhook millions of dollars in royalties, according to the legal complaint. A similar situation played out with Company X, which had already begun shipping phones with the XPS technology, and had reported no issues with the devices, Skyhook lawyers said Wednesday in court.

In Wednesday’s hearing, Skyhook made it clear that it thinks Google made some deliberate moves to keep it off the court as a competitor. The company says that Google has a subjective standard for compatibility that it adjusted specifically to make Skyhook’s XPS system unsuitable for the Motorola and Company X phones. Skyhook claims the mobile phone makers it had previously signed contracts with had to drop out of the agreements due to Google’s edicts.

In opposing the injunction, Google lawyers stated that Motorola’s termination of the contract had nothing to do with Google’s compatibility standards. Google lawyer Jonathan Albano said at the hearing yesterday that Motorola ended the contract in part because Skyhook failed to perform. [Editor’s note: this sentence was rephrased for clarity at 3:30pm on 11/18/10.] He also said that Google … Next Page »

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