Skyhook, Fighting for Its Life in Suit Against Google, Cries Foul: “Call in the Referees and Review the Tape”

9/16/10Follow @wroush

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an open platform available for carriers, OEMs, and developers to use to make their innovative ideas a reality,” the Android project’s About page states. “We wanted to make sure that there was no central point of failure, where one industry player could restrict or control the innovations of any other.”

But now Google itself stands accused of restricting and controlling mobile innovation, by telling handset makers that non-Google positioning technologies aren’t compatible with Android.

“Eric Schmidt himself says that Android is open and anyone can do whatever they want with it, and that is for the betterment of the industry,” says Morgan. “My standpoint is, the actions and the words are not aligned. And some of those actions, we feel, have unfairly damaged us, and we’re asking the courts to take a look at it.”

Skyhook’s federal patent infringement lawsuit against Google is harder to parse. The startup says Google location based services infringe on four U.S. patents owned by Skyhook—No. 7,414,988, granted in 2008, No. 7,433,694, also granted in 2008, No. 7,474,897, granted in 2009, and No. 7,305,245, granted in 2007. The patents cover both methods for updating databases of Wi-Fi access points locations and algorithms for calculating a device’s position based on its proximity to those access points—technologies that are at the very heart of Skyhook’s system. The methods Google is using to collect its own database of Wi-Fi access point locations (a process carried out by the same vehicles that canvas city streets for the Google Street View visual search service) represent willful infringements on Skyhook’s patents, according to the complaint.

But the complaint doesn’t specify—and at this point in the legal process, Skyhook isn’t required to say—exactly how Google’s positioning technology overlaps with its own. Morgan says he can’t comment in detail about the patent suit, because “that is a little thornier, legal-wise.” But at heart, he says, the company is simply out to protect the multi-million-dollar investment it’s made in its patent portfolio.

Morgan says he only decided to file the two suits around noon Pacific time on Wednesday, after attempts to negotiate a solution directly with Google’s Rubin failed. It’s the first time Skyhook has taken another players in the location space to court. After Apple decided to scrap Skyhook’s XPS in August in favor of its own home-grown location technology, my colleague Greg Huang asked Morgan whether a suit might be pending. At that time, he demurred, pointing out that the company had “never engaged in any litigation.” But Morgan told me the company decided yesterday to let loose with simultaneous patent-infringement and contractual-interference suits against Google because “Google’s actions are damaging our company, we need to respond, and those are the assets we have to respond.”

I asked Morgan whether he feels Skyhook has the stamina and resources to go up against a Goliath the size of Google. “We feel we have the staying power, based on the growth of the business and the revenue generated to support it,” he answered. “Otherwise we wouldn’t go down this path. It’s a reluctant path. Mike and I would rather do things business-wise—we like selling software and working with customers, and the legal side is very unappealing to us. But [the patents] are the six-foot brick wall we built around the company, and we are going to defend ourselves.”

Compare this story to:

Competitor Sues Google Over Location Software for Smartphones (New York Times)
Skyhook Sues Google in a Location Battle Royale (GigaOm)
Skyhook sues Google over Motorola mapping deal (CNET)
Skyhook Wireless suing Google over wi-fi location biz (Mass High Tech)

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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