It’s a familiar legal argument: a dominant technology company has abused its market power to bully industry stakeholders, protect its monopoly and stifle competition.
The Justice Department’s case against Internet search giant Google has vague echoes of a landmark federal case against Microsoft a quarter-century ago. Like Microsoft, Google has been accused of using its overwhelming market power to unfairly cut off competitors from potential customers.
The lawsuit against Google points to Microsoft’s lawsuit and the company’s tactics in the 1990s, when it was accused of trying to fuel competition in the early days of web browsers. “Google is using the same playbook,” the government declares, by illegally leveraging its strength in online search as Microsoft does with its personal computer operating system, Windows.
Back then, if you wanted to go online, chances are you did it with a computer running Windows. 90 percent of personal computers use Microsoft’s Windows software, and Microsoft controls the software and services that appear on those Windows PC screens.
But Microsoft called it a different way during Tuesday’s opening statements.
Google’s lead courtroom attorney, John E. Schmittlin tried to focus the judge’s attention on another tech giant, Microsoft, instead of Google’s smaller competitors in the search market, such as DuckDuckGo.
Mr. Schmidlin said.
“Microsoft has failed to invest, failed to innovate,” he said, comparing it to Google.
And Bing, DuckDuckGo and Yahoo’s search engine aren’t the only competitors to Google, Mr. Schmittlin argued. He named Wayfair, Walmart, Amazon and Overstock for shopping, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Hotels.com and Expedia for travel and Doordash, Grubhub, UberEats and Yelp for food delivery.
Although the legal theory advanced by the Justice Department against Google mirrors that used in the Microsoft case, it is from a different era. When Microsoft’s experiment began, it was the high tide of early Internet ecstasy. E-commerce was just taking off and every industry wanted to jump on the digital bandwagon. The first BlackBerry, essentially an email device, was introduced in 1999. It wasn’t until 2007 that the iPhone launched the smartphone era.
Microsoft’s case ultimately ended in a settlement. The resulting consent decree prohibited the company from imposing restrictive covenants, freed PC makers to install and feature other companies’ software, and forced Microsoft to disclose additional technical information.
A leading user of a more open environment is an Internet search startup called Google, with new technology and then a new business model. It was installed in September 1998, a month before Microsoft began testing.