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Google accused of stealing balloon network tech behind Project Loon

Thu 16 Jun 2016

Google Project Loon

Google’s new parent company Alphabet has found itself faced with a lawsuit this week, which claims that the tech giant stole the idea behind its Wi-Fi-emitting balloon network, Project Loon.

The Space Data Corporation of Chandler, Arizona, filed the suit [PDF] earlier this week and is arguing that it currently holds patents for a balloon-based system which carries broadband antennae to create a wireless data network in remote and military locations. The organisation is suing Alphabet for infringement in the Northern California District Court.

According to the file, Alphabet’s Project Loon breaches copyright of U.S. Patent 6628941: ‘Airborne constellation of communications platforms and methodand U.S. Patent 7801522: ‘Unmanned lighter-than-air safe termination and recovery methods.’

These patents both pre-date Loon and were granted for use with two systems, named ‘SkySat’ and ‘SkySite’, which Space Data uses to deliver balloon-based data services to U.S. armed forces. The company also holds licenses from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide broadband spectrum services across remote areas of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Space Data further adds in the complaint that as many as 10 Google representatives, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had met with the Space Data team in 2007 and 2008 to discuss potential partnerships. These meetings covered confidential details on Space Data’s patented technology.

The plaintiff explains that Google did not agree to the collaboration, and instead chose to steal trade secrets and started developing its own balloon network in 2011, which has since become Project Loon.

‘Project Loon improperly and unlawfully utilizes Space Data’s confidential information and trade secrets which Space Data disclosed to Defendant Google pursuant to a 2007 Mutual Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreement,’ the complaint states.

The suit seeks damages for two counts of patent infringement, as well as two counts of misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of written contract.

Google is yet to comment on the case.


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