Google faces French court claim over market dominance

People's silhouettes in front of the Google logo The FTC is looking at whether Google manipulates its search results to steer users to its own sites

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French search engine 1PlusV is suing Google for 295m euros (£264m), the largest damage claim the search engine has faced in Europe.

It claims that Google used its market dominance to block the development of rival services.

An earlier complaint from 1PlusV and others, including Microsoft, triggered a European Commission investigation.

It also faces a probe from the US Federal Trade Commission.

Lost profits

1plusV, which runs the Ejustice.fr legal website and search engine, said that court action was the "logical" next step in its campaign to force closer scrutiny of Google's practices.

"Our actions benefit not just one company, but all players in the booming vertical search business," said 1plusV founder Bruno Guillard.

It filed its initial complaint with the EC in February 2010 and a formal investigation was launched in November.

Google was served notice of the claim on Monday.

"We have only just received the complaint so we can't comment in detail yet. We always try to do what's best for our users. It's the key principle that drives our company and we look forward to explaining this," the firm said in a brief statement.

At the core of 1plusV's case is the claim that it lost revenue because Google prevented it from developing specialised "vertical" search engines.

Black-listed

"Google employed a number of anti-competitive practices and unethical behaviour over a period of four years to cripple 1plusV's ability to generate business and advertising," it said in a press release.

Between 2007 and 2010, it claims that 30 vertical search engines it had created were "black-listed".

Some of these have since been "white-listed" - indexed again, it said.

It also accused Google of artificially pushing its services to the first page of search results.

Another key element of the case against Google hinges on its Adsense system which allows advertisers to buy keywords which, when typed in as a search, query produce a commercial link alongside the search results.

In order to take advantage of Adsense, 1plusV said it was forced to abandon its own search technology and adopt Google's.

Google's advertising revenues hit $8.3bn in the first quarter of 2011.

The European Union has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU rules.

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