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Skyhook vows to take Google suit to bitter end

One way or another, says boss, we'll get on every Android phone

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The CEO of Skyhook Wireless has vowed to take the company's lawsuits against Google to the bitter end and – "one way or another" – get its location services onto every Android phone.

In September, the Boston-based Skyhook – which offers a service for pinpointing a mobile device's location via Wi-Fi signals – launched two suits against Google. One, filed in federal court, claims patent infringement. The other, filed in Massachusetts state court, alleges unfair and intentional interference with its contractual and business relations. In short, the suit accuses Google of using its Android mobile operating system to strong-arm handset manufacturers into using Google's location technology rather than Skyhook's.

At one point, the suit says, Andy Rubin – the man who oversees Google's Android project – told Motorola co-CEO Sanjay Jha that if the handset manufacturer didn't drop Skyhook, Google would remove official Android support from the devices. This would mean that Motorola could not use proprietary Google services such as the Android Market. The suit argues that although Google bills Android as an "open" platform, it maintains tight control over how it's used.

"[Google forced handset makers] to terminate contractual obligations with Skyhook [and] to sacrifice superior end user experience with Skyhook by threatening directly or indirectly to deny timely and equal access to evolving versions of the Android operating system and other Google mobile applications," the suit reads.

Speaking with the Boston incarnation of Xcompany this week, Skyhook boss Ted Morgan said that his outfit “probably in the first or second inning of a [legal] fight with a company that wants to drag it out as long as possible." That company would be Google. He called the fight "unfortunate", but he said that it "brings to light [Google’s] behavior, which is in contrast to their stated position of being open and not evil."

Then he said that Skyhook has enough capital to see the suits play out.

He also said that the company will continue to battle Google on phones. "[Our] strategy is more sound than ever,” he said. “Google is the only competitor. We own all the intellectual property around it. While the Google [litigation] is a headache, you couldn’t ask for a better market to be in.”

Skyhook, he said, will "get around Google", by providing its service to Android application developers such as Priceline and Citysearch. Both currently offer apps that use Skyhook's service. "We will get on every Android phone one way or another,” Morgan said. “It’s a harder approach, but we’ll get there.”

Skyhook and other small outfits must continue to battle both Google and Apple, he said, because the two giants are threatening to create a duopoly along the lines of Verizon and AT&T. Skyhook's service was originally part of the iPhone platform, but Apple has since dropped it.

Skyhook's federal suit claims that Google has violated four Skyhook patents, seeking an injunction and damages. The state suit also seeks an injunction and damages, with Skyhook claiming that Google has cost it "in excess of tens of millions of dollars".

Whatever the merits of the rest of Skyhook legal attack on Google, the state suit at least highlights Google's misuse of the word "open" when describing Android. Certainly, it's more open than the iPhone. But there are limits to its openness. Some parts of the platform are proprietary – which could provide the sort of leverage alleged in the suit – and the newest incarnation of the platform is always developed behind closed doors, which means that only certain manufacturers have access to it before it's officially released. ®

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