Google faces claim for €295M damages in French court

French search company 1plusV has followed up an antitrust complaint to the European Commission with a claim for damages

A French publishing company has filed suit against Google, alleging anti-competitive practices and claiming €295 million (US$420 million) in damages.

The lawsuit, filed by 1plusV in the Paris Commercial Court on Tuesday, accuses Google of blacklisting 30 vertical search engines the French company created to target particular markets, and of manipulating search results in order to promote its own services over those of competitors.

If those 30 search engines had been allowed to compete on their merits, they would now have combined yearly sales of €30 million, 1plusV said. The company alleged that anticompetitive practices by Google caused it to miss out on past and future profit of around €295 million, a figure it said was based on estimates by the consultancy Microeconomix.

1plusV hinted that its claim for damages included profit it would have realized had it sold the search engines, rather than continuing to operate them, as it noted that a similar hybrid search business, Aardvark, sold for around $50 million, or eight times sales, and would likely sell for more today. Google bought Aardvark in February 2010.

It's not the Google's first legal dust-up with 1plusV: in February 2010 1plusV filed an antitrust complaint against Google with the European Commission, Europe's antitrust authority. That complaint concerned Google's treatment of 1plusV subsidiary eJustice.fr, as a result of which the Commission opened a broad investigation of Google's business practices in November. 1plusV filed another complaint in February this year.

Filing the lawsuit is a logical follow-up to the complaint to the Commission, 1plusV said Tuesday, because although the European antitrust authority could fine Google, it cannot award damages. As 1plusV is a French company, it had to file suit in Paris, it said, adding that the court is already hearing at least one case against Google and so there is no reason it should declare itself incompetent to hear the case against the Californian company.

A spokeswoman for Google said the company had only just received the complaint and so can't comment in detail yet. "We always try to do what's best for our users. It's the key principle that drives our company and we look forward to explaining this," she said.

It will have plenty of time to explain: 1plusV said that cases such as this typically last 16 to 24 months.

1plusV also put paid to any attempts to paint it as a puppet for Google's larger rivals. In a statement, it explicitly denied links with the Initiative for Competitive Online Marketplace (ICOMP), Microsoft and Facebook, and said its legal actions are self-financed.

ICOMP is a Microsoft-backed industry body of which U.K. price comparison search engine Foundem is a member. Foundem filed an antitrust complaint against Google in Europe around the same time 1plusV filed its first complaint. Another price comparison site, Microsoft subsidiary Ciao hit Google with an antitrust complaint in Germany in January 2010, and later filed a complaint with the Commission. In March this year, Microsoft filed an antitrust complaint against Google with the Commission, alleging that Google had stopped Microsoft's Bing search engine from indexing content on Google-owned YouTube.

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Tags internetGooglelegalsearch enginesantitrustCivil lawsuits1plusVEjustice.fr

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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