On Tuesday, the Northern District of California weighed in on an antitrust case brought by three businesses that use Google Maps to display or use maps or maps-related information on their websites or mobile applications. Judge Jeffrey S. White ruled against the plaintiffs on all claims, citing insufficient allegations to support their market definition and Google’s market power, among other things.
The April 2022 suit alleges that Google unlawfully ties its Maps, Routes, and Places application programming interface (API) services together by refusing to sell one API service unless the purchaser also agrees to purchase another Google mapping service or agrees not to purchase API services from other companies.
These requirements, in combination with Google’s alleged 90% control of the relevant market, allows it to charge higher prices for its mapping API services, the complaint says. On behalf of a putative class, the plaintiffs bring unlawful tying, bundling, exclusive dealing, and monopoly leveraging claims in violation of the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and California’s Unfair Competition Law.
Google moved to dismiss in September as well as strike the plaintiffs’ class certification allegations.
In this week’s 11-page ruling, Judge White addressed the tying claim, noting that though initially the plaintiffs did not explain which products were tied together, its opposition filing said that the “main tying product is Google Maps’ Maps API, and the tied products are Google Maps’ Routes APIs and Places APIs” and customers were forced to do business Google’s way via its terms of service.
To the contrary, the opinion said that the terms of service “do not require that a customer purchase any Google mapping API service as a condition of using another Google mapping API service.” Noting that the plaintiffs did not allege facts establishing that Google’s mapping API services are otherwise unable to be purchased individually, the court turned the sufficiency of their coercion allegations.
Labeling them “conclusory,” Judge White said they were insufficient because they did not explain which Google products the businesses were forced to purchase or what products they were unable to purchase because of the terms of service.
The plaintiffs’ product market allegations also fell short of the plausibility standard, the court said. “Plaintiffs have simply taken the labels that Google applies to its categories of digital mapping API services and alleged, in conclusory fashion, that those categories are the relevant product markets,” Judge White wrote. However, the court noted that a relevant market must contemplate interchangeability of economic substitutes and cross-elasticity of demand.
Lastly, the court declined to strike the plaintiffs’ class allegations as Google requested. “While the Court has doubts about the propriety Plaintiffs’ class definition, the Court finds Google’s arguments better addressed at the class certification stage,” the opinion said.
The plaintiffs have 30 days to file an amended complaint.