Lawyers for Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) are going to try to persuade a federal judge on Thursday to toss out an antitrust suit that claims Google forces its Android hardware partners to use Google Search, Maps and other services as default applications. Google contends that agreements it strikes with companies like Samsung Electronics and HTC on Android that include those provisions are not anti-competitive.
The search giant is facing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California from two smartphone customers, who filed a proposed class-action suit against Google in May. The suit alleges that the way in which Google licenses Android to smartphone companies is unfair to Google's competitors for search and other mobile services, and unfairly disadvantages rival services like Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Bing search engine.
Although Google distributes Android for free as part of an open-source project, it exerts control over the look and feel of Android phones that run Google services like Search and Maps. Part of that effort can be glimpsed in the "Mobile Application Distribution Agreements" OEMs have signed with Google, which require manufacturers to make Google Search the device's default search engine. The agreements even require placement of Google apps in certain locations on the device, such as having its Play Store icon "immediately adjacent" to the home screen.
At the hearing in San Jose, Calif., Google will build on arguments in has made in court filings that the lawsuit should be dismissed because consumers can still use rival applications. However, the lawsuit alleges most consumers do not know how to change the default app settings or will not bother to do so, largely locking them into using Google's own services.
Yet as GigaOM notes, Google also does not think the customers have suffered any harm from its decision to require that phone makers install its apps as default apps. The company's filing in the case contends it is implausible that Android devices are more expense because Google's agreements prevent device makers from getting money from Microsoft and others to make their apps the default ones.
If U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman allows the class-action lawsuit to proceed, the plaintiffs' lawyers would be allowed to see internal Google emails and contracts with smartphone companies, and could interview Google executives under oath, Reuters notes. "I'm confident we will get into juicy stuff, and I think that will up the pressure on Google as some of the material we discover becomes public," lawyer Steve Berman told Reuters in July.
Google contends the agreements do not prevent rival search engines "from reaching consumers through the various distribution channels available to them."
Meanwhile, last month, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution urging antitrust authorities to break up Google. The resolution called for the European Commission to look at ways to unbundle search engines from other commercial services.
- see Reuters article
- see this GigaOM article
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