Anticipating Antitrust Decision, European Firms Get Ready To Sue Google
Firms building litigation infrastructure to support multiple lawsuits.
Sensing an opportunity if the European Commission (EC) decides Google abused its market position in shopping search, a European law firm and a “public affairs” firm have teamed up to create a kind of litigation infrastructure to help European companies sue Google. According to the New York Times, these companies (Hausfeld and Avisa) “have created an online platform, to help companies sue Google for financial damages in European courts.”
The two firms say they will provide various types of support, presumably including representation, to potential litigants. A number of companies have filed civil complaints already, but this could open the door for many more. The Times article points out that these antitrust-related civil lawsuits are very new in Europe, so there’s little legal precedent to assess their potential success.
If the EC determines Google has violated European antitrust law, the company, which has aggressively denied all claims, has the ability to appeal the decision to European courts.
As a practical matter, the potential outcomes of the civil suits hinge on the EC’s decision in the public antitrust case. It seems fairly clear these civil suits have little chance of succeeding without an EC decision supporting their arguments. It’s not clear, however, if the EC finds a violation and Google appeals, how that would affect the civil cases, which might be put on hold pending the outcome of the appellate process.
There’s considerable frustration and a sense of unfairness within some European companies about what they perceive as Google’s “market abuses.” An anti-Google EC decision, combined with the solicitation of litigants by Hausfeld and Avisa, could result in scores of lawsuits for alleged lost revenue and other damages.
There are numerous cultural and political issues now deeply intertwined with the Google antitrust case. For many European firms and media companies struggling to compete in a changing market, Google has become a kind of symbol and scapegoat for problems that ultimately have more to do with their own organizations and products. Beneath some of these firms’ complaints there is also a sense of entitlement, which has been repeatedly expressed in the rhetoric and the filings (“Google has diverted our traffic”).
Many Europeans obviously have a different perspective on all this and don’t see themselves motivated by entitlement, anti-American bias or resentment. I believe, however, it would ultimately be much more productive for these companies to focus on trying to directly engage and acquire mobile users rather than continuing to focus on PC traffic losses or seeking a kind of revenge for perceived unjust treatment.