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Judge won't block distribution of Google Earth

Court rejects request for injunction against the popular 3D mapping program, which is the subject of a patent lawsuit.

A federal judge in Massachusetts has rejected a request for an injunction preventing Google from distributing its popular 3D Earth-mapping and visualization program.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock on Friday denied a preliminary injunction requested by a Virginia-based company called Skyline Software Systems, which alleges that Google Earth violates its terrain-mapping patent.

A notice posted on the court's Web site says that Woodlock announced his decision in a telephone conference with attorneys involved in the case without publishing a written opinion.

The legal spat began when Skyline sued Keyhole, a Mountain View, Calif.-based digital mapping company, for patent infringement in May 2004. Founded in 1997, Skyline makes a number of mapping products, including one called TerraExplorer, which, according to its Web site, "allows users to freely fly through 3D terrain and urban environments."

Google became part of the suit after it acquired Keyhole in October 2004. Keyhole made interactive, three-dimensional mapping software based on terabytes of information and images taken from satellites and airplanes. That technology formed the basis for Google Earth, which was released last June.

Also on Monday, Google released a new version of Google Earth that it says has a simpler user interface and textured 3D buildings.

Skyline said Keyhole's technology infringes on Patent No. 6,496,189 it received in late 2002, which is titled "Remote landscape display and pilot training" and talks about "a method of providing data blocks describing three-dimensional terrain to a renderer."

Skyline requested a preliminary injunction that would prohibit sales or distribution of Google Earth while it awaits resolution of the dispute. A full trial is expected later this year.

In a brief filed in February, Google said that "Skyline was not the first to provide satellite imagery of the Earth" and cites earlier efforts, such as technology created by SRI International.

Google is being represented by Fenwick & West's Mountain View office, and Skyline has retained the law firm of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo.

CNET News.com's Anne Broache contributed to this report.