Home Is Android Really Open? Skyhook’s Battle With Google Challenges That Claim

Is Android Really Open? Skyhook’s Battle With Google Challenges That Claim

Imagine you have a date set up with one of the prettiest girls in school. You may not be the most popular kid in the halls, but she seems to like you and going out with her will be a big boost to your reputation.

Along comes the captain of the football team. He tells the girl that she cannot go out with you or her, or any of her friends, will never be able to date a football player ever again. In the sociological mess that is high school, that would be absolutely devastating.

Essentially, that is what Google is doing to location service provider Skyhook. And Skyhook is fighting back. In court.

Skyhook provides its customers with a giant database of locations it has mapped to Wi-Fi signals and MAC addresses around the United States. Mobile phone manufacturers, among others, license Skyhook’s technology to augment GPS and tell phone users where they are.

In its legal battle with Google to save Android contracts it signed with Motorola and Samsung, and Skyhook won the first courtroom battle with the search giant.

“Being told you are going to lose your Android license is Google’s nuclear option,” Morgan said. “And Google uses its nuclear option often.”

Judge Judith Fabricant of the Massachusetts Superior Court dismissed Google’s request for summary judgment of Skyhook’s complaint. That means the case will go into discovery, where both sides of the case have to share relevant documents with each other. It is something that Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan thinks Google did not want to go through.

“All this, as I am learning, is a long game and we are only in the early innings,” Morgan told us. “From what we have seen, Google doesn’t want to go to discovery.”

Google has not yet responded to our request for comment. Update: Google has declined comment on the case.

As we have seen with recent location tracking controversies around Apple and Google, knowing where people are and what they are doing is big money. With the meteoric rise of Android, Skyhook is feeling that it is being wrongfully shut out of an explosive market sector that it thought it had firm grapple on.

What Skyhook is upset about is that it says it was led to believe by Google that Android would be an “open” platform. Morgan said that Google had initially said that Android contained no location resources and hence Skyhook felt free to go ahead and negotiate contracts with original equipment manufacturers like Motorola and Samsung. Skyhook spent $1.5 million wooing Motorola and thought it had a foot in on the ground floor of Android in 2009.

Stop ship

Literally, that is what the the court documents say, say, at least according to the complaint filed by Skyhook. Google’s head of Android, Andy Rubin, reportedly sent a message to Motorola co-CEO Sanjay Jha telling him to stop ship of Android devices loaded with Skyhook location software. Morgan said that is exactly the same thing Google did between Skyhook and Samsung.

Skyhook is accusing Google of threatening to take away the Android licenses of Motorola and Samsung if did not launch with Google Location Services.

“We looked at these deals that we wanted and we thought they were all pretty big,” Morgan said. “We thought we were on an IPO track after seven years in business and this happens.”

Skyhook. Meet carpet. Yeah, the one that Google just pulled out from under you.

“Being told you are going to lose your Android license is Google’s nuclear option,” Morgan said. “And Google uses its nuclear option often.”

Then we come back to the notion of “open.” Skyhook would not be upset with Google if they had been upfront with their intentions for Android in the first place. Apple and Microsoft were straightforward with Skyhook in saying that they were going to use their own location services (for better or worse) and Skyhook, though probably disappointed, was OK with that.

“It is all a cover story to be able to control the location [on Android devices,]” Morgan said. “We would be fine with it if that is the way it started but it wasn’t and we feel that might be illegal.”

The next phase of the process will take about another six months as lawyers go through the discovery process. Skyhook’s attorneys will be looking to prove that Google is stifling innovation and forced Android OEMs to break contracts with Skyhook because the search company wanted to control the location data. There is a side case to all of this where Skyhook is suing Google over four location-based patents.

To a certain extent, Google’s notion of “open” is on trial. Skyhook’s battle is the height of legal and economic intrigue mixed with world’s current technology ecosystem. Will the final result be a change in the way Google operates Android?

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