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Google Walks a Mile in Microsoft's Shoes

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Is Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) a monopolist? TradeComet says it is, and wants its day in court to prove it. Welcome to Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) world, Larry and Sergey. Coffee and bagels are next door. Bill will be with you in a moment.

The soon-to-not-be-so-secret sauce?
TradeComet is a New York-based holding company whose subsidiaries include SourceTool, a "global business-to-business (B2B) search engine" for buyers of industrial products, according to a company press release. Executives there accuse Google of killing SourceTool by raising prices for critical traffic-building services a hundredfold.

"With no notice, Google changed from cheerleader to tyrant when it realized we were a competitive threat," CEO Dan Savage said in a statement, positioning his company as if it were on track to be the next Baidu.com (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) -- before Google squashed its hopes, that is.

To be fair, these are serious accusations that deserve a fair hearing. And while I doubt that SourceTool was ever a competitive threat to Google, its website is comprehensive -- it's just not a search engine. Rather, it's a directory, much more like Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) was in its early days.

Too bad that doesn't matter. Thanks to this suit, investors and regulators are now faced with a very troubling question: Can Google do whatever it wants with its PageRank search algorithm, even if its actions harm businesses that depend on it for traffic?

(Gulp.)

There's no good answer here if you're an investor. Say yes, and Google gets to be this decade's Microsoft, a search engine that laughs at its so-called competition, crushes upstarts, and, ultimately, suffers a crippling regulatory probe.

Say no, and Google risks becoming a government lapdog, a lame-duck researcher slouching toward obscurity a la Xerox PARC or Bell Labs. Both still employ some of world's brightest minds but they're also no longer the unparalleled source of innovation they once were.

Thanks, TradeComet. Thanks a lot.

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Baidu.com and Google are Rule Breakers recommendations. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. Try either of these Foolish services free for 30 days. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is searching for a brand-new area rug for its office. Carpet is so yesterday.


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Tim Beyers
TMFMileHigh

Tim Beyers first began writing for the Fool in 2003. Today, he's an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Motley Fool Supernova. At Fool.com, he covers disruptive ideas in technology and entertainment, though you'll most often find him writing and talking about the business of comics. Find him online at timbeyers.me or send email to tbeyers@fool.com. For more insights, follow Tim on Google+ and Twitter.

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