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Judge Dumps Spy App’s Suit Against Google

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - Google did nothing wrong when it shut down a popular app that lets parents spy on their children's smartphone usage, a federal court judge ruled Monday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal dismissed the case against Google, ruling plaintiff Spy Phone Labs didn't show that Google actively participated in copyright infringement or inappropriately prevented it from making a profit.

Spy Phone Labs filed the suit in New Jersey in October 2014, claiming Google shut down its app at the request of another app company and failed to protect its trademark by hosting other similarly named apps with a similar function.

In August 2012, Spy Phone Labs first began using the Google Play Store, a digital marketplace, to host its app.

The app allows authorized third parties, most often parents or guardians, to know where a phone is located and how it being used, according to the ruling.

Over the course of the next year, the app became one of the most popular on Google Play Store, receiving about 1.1 million downloads.

During this period, Spy Phone Labs repeatedly complained to Google that other apps were violating its trademark and Google complied by taking them down.

But in May 2013, Google instead took down Spy Phone's app, claiming it violated its anti-spyware policy with the word "spy" in the app title.

Spy Phone Labs responded by saying other similarly situated companies that had the word "spy" in the title were still allowed to operate and claimed Google's removal was due to complaints by a competing company.

The app developer further claimed an engineer at Google Play Store wrote a letter to Spy Phone Labs disclosing that Google was behaving in a needlessly retaliatory manner.

The company changed its app name to Phone Tracker, but was not allowed to keep its prior ratings and comments and has suffered from fewer downloads as a result, according to the ruling.

Grewal said none of these actions were sufficient to constitute trade infringement or tortuous interference.

"To be liable for contributory infringement, Google must have 'continued to supply a product to one whom it knows or has reason to know is engaging in trademark infringement,'" Grewal wrote. The facts were not sufficient to support the claim, he said.

In order to show Google unlawfully interfered with its business, Spy Phone Labs had to show Google committed an unlawful act independent of and in association to its decision to remove the app from its digital store. The plaintiffs failed to show this in their claims, Grewal said.

Google did not return an email requesting comment by press time. Spy Phone Labs did not make a phone number available when it changed its name to Phone Tracker.

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