Google being sued over location software in smartphones

16 Sep 2010

Internet giant Google is being sued by Boston-based Skyhook Wireless, which is alleging the location software used in Google’s Android operating system infringes its patented location systems.

Skyhook Wireless, headed by Ted Morgan, also alleges that Google had persuaded Motorola and at least one other manufacturer to break contracts.

In recent weeks Google, which employs around 1,500 people in Ireland, announced it was creating 200 new jobs in Dublin specifically to work on location-based services.

The use of location is the lynchpin of many of the features on Android phones, which, according to Gartner, are on their way to becoming the world’s No 2 operating system on mobile devices, after Nokia’s Symbian.

Location: the lynchpin of future business

Location-based services using a combination of GPS, cellular data and Wi-Fi will be key to future e-commerce systems and personal communication.

Skyhook filed its suit at Massachusetts Superior Court. It accuses Google of intentionally disrupting its business relationships, claiming Google notified mobile manufacturers, telling them they needed to use Google’s location service as a condition of using Google’s Android operating system.

Skyhook alleges that Google’s engineering boss Andy Rubin issued Motorola’s CEO in charge of mobile devices Sanjay Jha a “Stop Ship” order that prevented Motorola shipping mobile phones that had both the Android operating system and Skyhook’s XPS software.

Skyhook also alleges Google violated four of its patents that gave it an advantage over competitors.

The company’s location system was used in the original iPhone but Apple has launched its own location service since then.

The global smartphone market is estimated to be worth US$100bn and manufacturers, software providers and internet companies are vying for a slice of the pie. At the heart of future services and innovation is location.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years