Google Sued By Skyhook Over Phone-Location Software

Google Inc. was accused by Skyhook Wireless Inc. of copying its location-finding inventions and of unfairly persuading phone makers to use Google’s product.

Skyhook said it filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts state court that claims Google interfered with contracts Skyhook had reached with phone makers including Motorola Inc. In a separate complaint in federal court in Boston, Skyhook alleged that Google infringed four of its patents related to ways to establish the precise location of a smartphone.

Location-tracking technology, which can pinpoint a person’s whereabouts, help advertisers tailor marketing messages to mobile-device users. Closely held Skyhook pioneered tracking a smartphone’s location by measuring its proximity to Wi-Fi hotspots instead of relying on global-positioning satellites or cell towers. The Boston-based company wants to keep from losing revenue to Google as more consumers and companies adopt the technology.

“Their behavior in this case is contradictory to their message of openness,” Skyhook Chief Executive Officer Ted Morgan said today in an interview. “In areas that are very important to Google, the rules seem to change.”

Skyhook claims Google threatened to rescind the rights of phone makers to use its Android operating system on devices containing Skyhook’s software.

“We haven’t yet been served, so we can’t comment on the complaint until we’ve had a chance to review it,” Andrew Pederson, a spokesman for Google, said in an e-mail.

Software Removed

The state suit focuses partly on a Skyhook claim that Andy Rubin, Google’s vice president of engineering, called Motorola Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Jha after the phone maker announced a partnership with Skyhook on April 26.

Rubin added new requirements that caused Skyhook to be in violation of the Android licensing terms, Skyhook claimed. Google had previously approved Skyhook’s technology as Android-compatible on many phones in the past, according to the lawsuit.

Skyhook also claims Rubin insisted that all phones include both Skyhook and Google’s technology, Google Location Services, a move that would lead to increased development costs for phone makers.

Rather than risk shipments of hot-selling Android devices, Motorola removed Skyhook’s software in favor of Google’s, according to the lawsuit. Skyhook says another phone maker also removed its technology. Skyhook didn’t identify the company except to say they announced a partnership on July 2. The only phone maker to do so was Samsung Electronics Co.

Patent Case

Skyhook is seeking damages in the tens of millions of dollars. The risk to Google is that it will be more difficult to gather data on smartphone user’s whereabouts if phones are running Skyhook’s software rather than its own location program.

Google’s Android strategy partly rests on its ability to serve up ads that are relevant to where a phone user happens to be. For example, it can offer theater ticket discounts to someone visiting Manhattan’s Broadway district.

In the patent case, Skyhook is seeking unspecified damages and an order that would prevent further use of its inventions.

Devices based on Android outshipped those running Apple Inc.’s operating system for the first time in the second quarter and may command 30 percent of the smartphone market by the end of 2011, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

The patent case is Skyhook Wireless v. Google Inc., 10cv11571, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts (Boston).

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