Sunday, September 19, 2010

Skyhook Sues Google over Patents and Pressure

Bloomberg reports Skyhook Wireless has sued Google over two separate matters: It's no surprise to me that Skyhook might maintain it has patents that Google was violating for deriving location from Wi-Fi signals. Skyhook goes way back, when Google wasn't even showing ads on its search results, and Skyhook was still developing its initial database. The suit reportedly alleges four patents were violated.

However, the other charge in the suit is more surprising. Skyhook says that Google threatened Android handset makers Motorola and Samsung in a way that I didn't think was even possible.

Android is an "open" operating system in name only. Sure, you can get the source code and mess around with it, but there are no mainstream generic Android phones that work on any carrier, and no carrier-sold phones are simple to crack open and do what you will.

"Open" refers to a carrier's ability to modify the phone's software to its will, not the consumer or developers'. In fact, many Android phones come with garbageware installed on the phones' home screen, with no way to remove it.

Skyhook alleges that Google's Android chief, Andy Rubin, specifically pressured Motorola by stating that with Skyhook's technology on board, Motorola phones would be in violation of "Android licensing terms." Strange, for an open system. Samsung apparently also was pressured to remove Skyhook's software.

Update: I've read the lawsuit about Google interfering with business partners, and the specific issue at stake for Motorola and (ostensibly) Samsung was the use of the "Android Compatible" brand and program; without this certification, a vendor can't participate in the Android Marketplace, among other things.

Apple recently removed Skyhook Wireless technology from new versions of its iOS operating system, and is gathering location information itself. But no threats were alleged.

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