Readers living in Germany who frequently rely on Google Maps might be feeling a little bit lost in a couple of months, after it was revealed that the service could well be blocked as a result of a patent dispute between Google and Microsoft.
The website FOSS Patents suggests that Microsoft is likely to be successful in obtaining an inunction against Google after alleging that the company has infringed upon one of its key patents. Patent number EP0845124, which was issued to Microsoft in 1996, is described as a “computer system for identifying local resources and method therefore” and is central to the inner workings of Google’s mapping software.
Should Microsoft win the injunction that it’s aiming for, something that is now very likely according to FOSS Patents, then Google could well be forced to remove its mapping service from Germany altogether. The injunction would apply to all mobile versions of the app (Android, iOS and others), and could even affect Google Chrome, which would be compelled to block access to Google Maps or face being taken offline altogether.
It would be a pretty stunning blow for Google in Europe if that were to happen, although at least one source claims that a compromise would likely be found. According to DPA, the more likely outcome is that Microsoft would give Google the option to buy a license for its patent instead, with a spokesman for the company confirming that this would be “one way to end this war.”
To fight the case, one of Google’s arguments has been that Google Maps is “too important” a service to be closed down, pointing out the massive inconvenience it would cause to its four million plus users in Germany. What they fail to mention though is that there are of course plenty of alternatives to Google Maps, such as Bing Maps or Nokia’s Here Maps service, and so this argument is unlikely to win the company a reprieve.
Most likely the real concern for Google is that if its maps service really is shut down – even temporarily – it’s possible that those who switch to rival mapping services won’t bother to return to Google Maps at a later date, when they find the alternatives are just as adequate.
Germany’s court will make a final ruling on the issue in about two months.