Antitrust suit accuses Google of stifling search innovation

Lawsuit claims Google's purchase of Android has allowed it to maintain an illegal monopoly that has adversely affected Internet and mobile search.

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Steven Musil
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Google is violating antitrust laws by maintaining an illegal monopoly on Internet and mobile search that has adversely affected the search market and artificially inflated the cost of devices from competing companies, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for Northern California, accuses the Web giant of using its purchase of the Android operating system to maintain the monopoly through secret agreements with device makers to load its own suite of applications on their devices. Google has the agreements, called Mobile Application Distribution Agreements (MADAs), with essentially all Android vendors, as revealed during its trial against Oracle in 2012, and it has provided funding, technical support, and other assistance to partners facing lawsuits.

Testifying at Apple's patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung, a Google attorney confirmed last month that the "="" samsung"="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="3ce49016-a6ef-4daa-9030-b5a843789ed1" slug="google-agreed-to-pony-up-for-samsungs-defense-against-apples-patent-infringement-claims" link-text="Internet giant had agreed to " section="news" title="Google agreed to pony up for Samsung's defense against Apple" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"3ce49016-a6ef-4daa-9030-b5a843789ed1","slug":"google-agreed-to-pony-up-for-samsungs-defense-against-apples-patent-infringement-claims","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"mobile"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Tech^Mobile","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> over its use of technology that Apple said infringed its patents. The patents wielded by Apple directly target features of Android that Google developed, including the Google search box and Gmail.

The complaint, which seeks class action status, claims that the secret agreement restraints on trade designed to maintain its control of Internet and mobile search by requiring distributors to set Google's search as the default app.

"As Google well knows, consumers do not know how to switch, nor will they go to the trouble of switching, the default search engine on their devices, so this practice is a highly effective means of ensuring that consumers will use Google search to conduct general Internet queries rather than one of its competitors' search products," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit goes on to suggest that the overall quality of Internet search would improve were device makers bound by Google's MADAs allowed to choose a search engine other than Google's. As more search queries went to Google competitors, their search process would become more effective, pushing Google to improve its process.

Plaintiffs also claim that if rival search engines were allowed to compete for default status, the price of devices could be subsidized by device makers, lowering their cost to consumers.

"It's clear that Google has not achieved this monopoly through offering a better search engine, but through its strategic, anti-competitive placement, and it doesn't take a forensic economist to see that this is evidence of market manipulation," Steve Berman, a partner of consumer right law firm Hagen Berman, said in a statement. "Simply put, there is no lawful, pro-competitive reason for Google to condition licenses to pre-load popular Google apps like this."

Google countered that Android and search were not mutually exclusive.

"Anyone can use Android without Google and anyone can use Google without Android," Google said in a statement. "Since Android's introduction, greater competition in smartphones has given consumers more choices at lower prices."

Google controlled 67.5 percent of the search market in February, a slight decline from the previous month, according to researcher ComScore.