Google Tells U.K. Court It Can't Pay for Foundem's Errors

Google Inc. told a London court it shouldn’t be held responsible for a U.K. Internet company’s commercial mistakes and be forced to pay damages for revenue lost due to its low ranking in web search results.

The operator of the world’s largest search engine defended itself against a lawsuit by Foundem, a U.K. shopping comparison website, which claims it lost web traffic as a result of being pushed down in Google’s search rankings, according to court filings.

“Google cannot be responsible for commercial decisions or mistakes made by Foundem and Foundem’s failure to mitigate is a situation of its own making,” Google said in its defense to the suit, filed in January and made public today. “Many of Foundem’s rivals have a more sophisticated, and self-reliant, business model based for example on extensive advertising.”

Foundem’s clash with Google over possible monopoly abuse by the search-engine market leader is also being fought out in Brussels, with the British company among complainants to European Union antitrust regulators. Still, Mountain View, California-based Google rejected Foundem’s claim that its complaint was the trigger for a probe by the European Commission.

Google said that the EU’s statement last May identifying four areas of concern wasn’t related to Foundem’s complaints about search or Google’s advertising service AdWords and was “therefore to be inferred that the commission considers these complaints to be baseless.”

EU Offer

Google last month submitted a detailed proposal to settle the EU investigation and address allegations that the company promotes its own specialist search-services, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry.

Shivaun Raff, Foundem’s chief executive officer, didn’t immediately respond to two calls seeking comment on the Google filing. Google declined to comment beyond the public filing.

Stephen Kinsella, Foundem’s lawyer at Sidley Austin LLP, said it was for the court to decide whether Google’s “preferencing” of its own services was a monopoly abuse.

Google said in its U.K. filing that any change to Foundem’s ranking in Google’s search engine were “the result of serious quality deficiencies” that didn’t meet Google’s guidelines. Foundem “offered little or no original content on its site,” repeated the same data numerous times and had garbled or missing text, it said.

Google also said that it provided “extensive feedback” to Foundem on how it could improve its ranking.

U.S. Probe

Foundem made some of the recommended improvements and Google also tweaked its search algorithms to credit Foundem for some features Google’s system had previously ignored, according to the court papers.

The U.S. ended an investigation into Google’s search business last month, saying there was no evidence that the company’s actions harmed consumers.

If EU regulators decide Google’s settlement proposal is sufficient to allay antitrust concerns, it would have to be sent to rivals and customers for comments before it could be accepted and finalized. Such a settlement would avoid possible fines against Google.

Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the European Commission, declined to comment on the importance of Foundem’s complaint to its investigation.

The case is Infederation v. Google, High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, No. HC12A02489.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.