The antitrust cases against Google in Europe could soon be multiplying: Lawyers for one of the complainants in the European Commission's antitrust action are setting up a platform to help companies file civil suits seeking damages from the search giant for anticompetitive behavior.
Even if the Commission wins its long-running antitrust battle with Google, the companies that complained about its business practices will get no redress for past wrongs, only undertakings that Google will change its behavior in the future.
Several of them, including comparison shopping site Foundem, one of the initial complainants, and mapping service Streetmap EU have already taken to the U.K. courts, seeking redress for what they allege is anticompetitive behavior on Google's part.
Now U.S. legal firm Hausfeld, which is representing Foundem in its case in the U.K. High Court, is setting up a group to help other companies evaluate their chances of winning damages in a case against Google.
GRIP, the Google Redress and Integrity Platform, set up with public affairs consultancy Avisa Partners, won't just focus on comparison shopping, the target of the Commission's statement of objections against Google, but will cover the whole range of Google services, including mapping, video, mobile operating systems and search.
The group has the indirect support of the Commission, which last year moved to make it easier for companies and individuals to bring private antitrust actions against companies in Europe.
The Commission is still mulling what to do about its case against Google, which could result in a fine of up to 10 percent of the company's worldwide revenue. In April the Commission filed a formal statement of objections accusing Google of abusing its dominant position in search to gain an advantage in comparison shopping, a charge Google rejected last week.
The Commission is also investigating whether Google unfairly requires smartphone makers to install Google apps on their products alongside the Android open-source OS.
Streetmap, one of the original complainants that prompted the Commission’s first investigation, has dropped out of that case in order to concentrate on its own legal action against Google, according to its commercial director, Kate Sutton.
With the Commission now focusing solely on comparison shopping, she encouraged companies in other sectors that believe they have been harmed by Google’s business practices to follow Streetmap’s example in seeking justice.
There are a number of questions they should ask themselves, she said, including: “Which country should I file the lawsuit in?” The U.K. is a good venue because of its potential for the legal process of discovery, she said.
Another question potential plaintiffs should consider is where to go for advice. GRIP is far from the first victim support group: Others include Fairsearch, founded by Foundem; the French Open Internet Project, and the Initiative for a Competitive Online Market Place (ICOMP), which counts many of the original complainants among its members.
While some of those organizations are principally lobby groups, GRIP is unabashedly about promoting litigation. To become a member, companies must have a solid case against Google, according to its website. Lawyers at Hausfeld will help vet applicants. Membership fees start at €10,000 (US$11,200) for companies with revenue under €100,000 and top out at €50,000 for companies with revenue over €10 million. Litigation costs are on top of that, although Hausfeld and Avisa say they will work on a no-win, no-fee basis where the law allows.