Commentary

Google: Foreign Rulings Shouldn't Apply In U.S. Antitrust Case

In general, U.S. courts don't put all that much stock in rulings from other countries. But a recent move by a French antitrust regulator could end up playing a role in an antitrust lawsuit brought in Ohio against Google by comparison shopping search engine myTriggers.

Several weeks ago, the French Autorite de la Concurrence reportedly ordered Google to restore AdWords ads for the technology company Navx, stating that the removal of Navx's search ads "brutally and profoundly affected the revenues" of the company.

Shortly after that ruling came down, myTriggers filed papers asking Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Bessey to take the French regulator's findings into account in deciding whether to grant Google's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Google recently responded by arguing that decisions by foreign authorities, interpreting other countries' laws, aren't relevant to whether the company violated the law in Ohio. MyTriggers countered in papers filed last week that Google's position "is contrary to the understanding of the proper application of the antitrust laws worldwide."

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Google almost certainly has the better legal argument on that point: A decision in France shouldn't be all that relevant to whether the company has violated Ohio's Valentine Act.

Google probably also has a stronger case in general in this particular lawsuit, given that myTriggers' theory seems inconsistent with its prior court filings. MyTriggers is now arguing that Google wrongly lowered myTriggers' quality score, resulting in a big price hike and driving myTriggers out of paid search. What's more, myTriggers alleges that Google took action for anticompetitive reasons, on the theory that myTriggers' cost-per-action model threatened Google's cost-per-click system. But that claim is undermined by the fact that myTriggers' previously said in a lawsuit that its quality score was lowered because its servers crashed.

Still, regardless of the particulars of myTriggers' lawsuit, a perception that Google poses a threat to small businesses could haunt the search giant. Consider, it's not only some European authorities who are complaining about Google. Earlier this month The New York Times wrote a controversial editorial stating that "it is worth exploring ways to ensure" that Google's changes to its algorithm are motivated by a desire to improve results "and not to help Google's other businesses."

Of course, some search marketers have complained for years about Google's "black box," and seemingly arbitrary decisions. Even if U.S. courts decide that Google has the legal right to return whatever results it wants in its search engines, the company probably needs to counter an impression that it isn't treating search marketers fairly.

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