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Google, Alliance Sued Over Android Name

A software developer claiming that Android, the Google-backed mobile operating system, violates his company's trademarked name has slapped the search giant and its allies with a lawsuit seeking millions in damages.

Erich Specht charges that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and its partners in the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) that oversees Android development are violating his nearly seven-year-old trademark when marketing their mobile platform.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Specht a trademark for his Illinois-based company, Android Data, in October 2002. Now, he's looking for damages from Google and each of the dozens of other partners in the Android mobile OS -- including eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), T-Mobile, Samsung, Motorola (NYSE: MOT) and Sony -- to the tune of $2 million in damages from each, "per counterfeit mark per type of good or service sold."

Google, meanwhile, doesn't plan to back down.

"We believe the claims are without merit and we plan on defending them vigorously," Google spokesman Andrew Pederson told InternetNews.com. "We have no interest in settling this case."

Part of the claims in the suit, filed April 28 in U.S. District Court in northern Illinois, are based on the fact that Google filed for an Android trademark but was finally rejected by the patent office, after an appeal, in 2008.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's response, Google's effort to get Android trademarked had been denied because, "with the contemporaneous use of highly similar marks that share the dominant term 'Android,' consumers are likely to conclude that the goods are related and originate from a single source."

But Specht pointed out in the suit that the OHA had begun promoting goods and services using "Android" in November 2007, and has been using the name ever since.

"On April 2, 2008, roughly six weeks after the PTO denied their application for the Android mark, the OHA presented 'Android' at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. On August 14, 2008, Google filed its response to Office Action. In its response, Google admitted that: 'Android was an arbitrary term we chose as a brand for our products.' On August 20, 2008, the [Patent and Trademark Office] issued its Office Action making the decision to deny Google's application," the suit said.

However, in its response to trademark officials' denial of its claim, Google said Android Data had dissolved in May 2004 and there had been no commercial use of the term "Android Data" for the three years since.

The "company no longer exists as a valid entity ... Thus, the registration is not valid, and should not be used as possible grounds for refusal of our registration of Android," Google wrote.

Google first began its association with "Android" in 2005, when it acquired a startup that bore the name.

In November 2007, Google and the OHA first publicly talked about their plans for Android development, later that month releasing their software development kit for Android phones.

But Specht's suit alleges that Google and the alliance members have been knowingly violating his trademark of the Android name ever since.

Specht said he is a software developer and ISP, developing software under the name Android Data for remote administration of Web sites. He said he chose the name Android Data "to communicate the seamless, almost robotic-like, bi-directional communication of data between a client and a data center in a remote location."

In any event, the lawsuit could mark one of the first public setbacks for Google and the OHA in their efforts to popularize Android. The alliance is aiming to win support for Android by offering handset makers a low-cost, open source alternative to proprietary mobile software that integrates features such as Gmail and Google Maps.

Android also now includes a marketplace for software downloads -- a feature increasingly seen as a must-have for mobile devices, following the success of Apple's App Store for its iPhone.

Update adds comment from Google.