Smartphone suit against Google plays into rivals' hands

Fri Jul 18, 2014 9:30am EDT
 
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By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. consumer lawsuit accusing Google of monopolizing prime real estate on Android smartphones will help mobile rivals like Microsoft make their antitrust case with European regulators should damaging secrets emerge in court.

The suit, filed in California federal court in May by two smartphone consumers, said Google requires handset manufacturers such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS: Quote) to restrict competing apps like Microsoft's Bing search on Android phones, partly by making Google's own apps the default.

Google argued last week the proposed class action should be dismissed because consumers still are free to use the other apps. The plaintiffs counter that most consumers either don't know how to switch default settings, or will not go to the trouble.

If a judge lets the lawsuit proceed, plaintiffs' attorneys would be allowed to delve into internal Google emails and contracts with smartphone companies, and could interview Google executives under oath, said Steve Berman, who represents the consumers.

"I'm confident we will get into juicy stuff, and I think that will up the pressure on Google as some of the material we discover becomes public," he said.

Google declined to comment. A hearing on Google's bid to dismiss the case is scheduled for October.

Any damaging evidence from the class action would play into the hands of Google's rivals. Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans said the company "is not a party" to the consumer lawsuit, but last year a group of companies - including Microsoft (MSFT.O: Quote), Oracle (ORCL.N: Quote), Nokia NOK1V.HE, Expedia (EXPE.O: Quote) and TripAdvisor TRIP.O - filed a complaint with European antitrust regulators over some of the same issues in the U.S. lawsuit.

Google apps "are widely used on Android by requiring default placement and other mechanisms for disadvantaging competing apps," the companies said in a summary of their complaint.   Continued...

 
The Google signage is seen at the company's offices in New York January 8, 2013.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly