In a complaint filed with federal district court in Illinois, Erich Specht, a software developer and founder of Android Data Corporation, alleges that he registered the name "Android Data" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2000 and obtained a trademark two years later.
Specht, who sells software that facilitates online retail transactions, seeks monetary damages and an injunction banning Google from continuing to call its mobile operating system "Android."
Google says the lawsuit is without merit and that it will fight the case vigorously.
Specht's attorney, Martin Murphy, says the software developer fears that clients will now confuse his company with Google's mobile operating system. "Everyone's associating Android with Google now," he said, adding that Specht doesn't want people to think that his company is a Google knockoff.
But, even though Specht registered the Android name long before Google began using it, the case is complicated by the fact that Android Data Corporation was dissolved in 2004. A company's dissolution creates a presumption that the owner abandoned the name, says trademark attorney Martin Schwimmer.
In addition, Specht dropped the domain name androiddata.com several years ago, which also could have led Google to believe it was allowed to use "Android" as a name. "It's easy to search and come up with conclusion that this thing was abandoned," Schwimmer said.
Murphy says the says the dissolution of Android Data Corporation was the result of a clerical error. He said the state of Illinois automatically dissolves companies that do not file franchise tax returns, but that Specht has since filed the paperwork to undo the dissolution.
Murphy also says that Specht's address has always been publicly available, so Google could have contacted him to learn firsthand whether he was still using the Android moniker.
Google sought to trademark the name Android in October 2007, just days before announcing its new mobile platform. Four months later, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied Google's request for a trademark because Specht already held a trademark for Android Data.
In addition to suing Google, Specht also sued the Open Handset Alliance and dozens of other companies that launched offerings under the Android name.
The stakes here could be quite high. Schwimmer says that comparable lawsuits have resulted in verdicts of tens of millions of dollars. For instance, Gatorade was ordered to pay more than $42 million for using the trademarked phrase "Thirst Aid" in ads -- although that amount was later slashed on appeal.
Some other high-profile Internet-related trademark disagreements have been resolved out of court. Apple and Cisco, for instance, resolved a dispute about the name iPhone within weeks of Cisco filing a lawsuit. Amazon also settled a trademark infringement dispute with the independent shop Amazon Bookstore in Minneapolis.