More than one entrepreneur has looked forward to the day when his or her company might become the dominant player in the industry, the company that everyone wants to emulate. In the search business that company is clearly Google. But this week's headlines give you a different picture of what it's like to be number one--as number one you're also the biggest target of expensive, lengthy, and often damaging lawsuits.
First off, Xerox filed a patent suit against Google alleging that Google had infringed on its patent "System for automatically generating queries" with Google's famous and widely-used AdWords and AdSense software. Xerox is also going after Google Maps and Google Video, which it claims violated a different patent having to do with updating Web pages based on posted reviews by users. Xerox is seeking big bucks because it's alleging willful infringement, which means that it wants to collect treble damages. Google plans to contest these allegations, and this will turn into the clash of the Titans because both companies have very deep pockets.
Not to be outdone by Xerox, the Italian government convicted three Google executives for violation of the country's privacy code when in 2006 (before Google acquired YouTube), a student uploaded an offensive video involving an autistic child. The Italian court's decision has huge ramifications for Google in that country because it essentially means that employees of Google could be held criminally responsible for text, photos, and videos their users upload. This could set a devastating precedent, according to Matt Sucherman, VP and general counsel for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.. "...then the Web as we know it will case to exist..." Google plans to appeal.
And not to be outdone by Italy, Google this week was slapped with an antitrust complaint by a UK company, a French search engine, and Microsoft's Ciao From Bing, alleging unfair competition. So the next time you look with envy at a highly successful company in your industry, stop yourself. Success sometimes comes with a heavy price and there will always be companies out there who want to take that success away.