Skyhook Sues Google Maps Over Navigation Patents

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Google Maps is using Wi-Fi positioning technology without a licence, says Skyhook

Google, the world’s largest Internet search engine operator and the maker of the popular Google Maps application, has been sued by US positioning system developer Skyhook Wireless over nine patents related to Wi-Fi Positioning Systems (WPS).

Skyhook filed a complaint last week in federal court in Delaware, claiming its intellectual property was used “without authority or license”. Google denies it infringed on the patents.

Wardriving

Skyhook had pioneered the method of tracking a smartphone’s location by measuring its proximity to Wi-Fi hotspots instead of relying on global positioning satellites or cell towers.

Navigation, GPS, WPS Google Maps © glossyplastic Shutterstock 2012Using the MAC addresses of nearby wireless access points together with proprietary algorithms, the company’s WPS can determine the location of a mobile device within 10–20 meters. It provides service similar to GPS without the complicated hardware, and can also integrate with GPS-enabled devices to provide accurate hybrid positioning.

The most distinctive feature of WPS is almost 100 percent availability indoors and in dense urban areas.

Skyhook claims that Google has used its technology in Maps on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. The two companies failed to negotiate a license during meetings in 2006 and 2007, and now Skyhook wants a jury trial to look at what it calls “wilful” infringement.

The company is asking for an unspecified amount in damages, as well as an injunction against further infringement.

Google has denied it has been using the technology without paying for it. “We believe these claims are baseless and we intend to defend vigorously against them,” company spokeswoman Niki Fenwick said in a statement to Bloomberg.

Back in 2010, Skyhook had already sued Google in a Massachusetts court over four patents related to WPS. Patent expert Florian Mueller called the action “defensive”, brought about by Google’s own bullying tactics.

According to Mueller, Google tried to prevent Skyhook from some major Android-related opportunities through what Skyhook alleged were “unfair, arbitrary and ultimately anticompetitive actions”.

“It looks it won’t be done with Google anytime soon, and has been building a true patent thicket surrounding WiFi-based geolocation technologies,” commented Mueller on Friday.

Over the years, Google Maps has become the golden standard for navigation software. In June, Apple proudly announced it was dropping the rival’s product from its iOS 6, and replacing it with an in-house creation. While Apple Maps made London look great in 3D, the application caused confusion among iPhone users by missing landmarks, putting an airfield in the middle of Dublin, ignoring the Falkland islands and filling the marina of St. Katherine’s Dock with concrete.

On Tuesday, Google chairman Eric Shmidt said that his company currently has no plans to provide a Google Maps iPhone application.

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