Google’s parent company, Alphabet, seems to have no shortage of good ideas. But in court papers filed this week, it was suggested that the idea behind Project Loon, was stolen.

Arizona firm, Space Data Corporation has accused Alphabet of infringing on two patents which it filed as far back as April 2000. This was long before Project Loon was even a twinkle in Google’s eye.

The patents, namely ‘airborne constellation of communications platforms and method‘ and ‘unmanned lighter-than-air safe termination and recovery methods‘ are used in Space Data’s SkySat and SkyLite technologies. Space Data is claiming that Google has outright stolen its idea.

The timeline

In December 2007 Space Data and Google agreed to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) so that the two parties could discuss the acquisition of shares or assets of Space Data. The NDA agreement would remain in effect until either party terminated the agreement.

At its core the NDA was to serve as a way for either party to protect itself from the other stealing its ideas while discussions were underway. This dealt with confidential information sent to Google after the NDA was signed, including “business concepts addressing the use of balloons for transmission of wireless service”, according to the suit.

A few months later, on 15th February 2008, about 13 Google employees, including founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, flew to the Space Data HQ for a day. Space Data showed off a number of technologies including the balloons on this day, one of which Brin released.

Then, on 24th February 2008, a Google team member sent an email to Space Data saying that further discussions regarding the acquisition of Space Data shares and assets would no longer take place “in the near term”.

As far as we know, the NDA hasn’t been terminated by Google, Alphabet or Space Data.

A patent filing from Space Data and an explainer for Project Loon side-by-side.
A patent filing from Space Data (left) and an explainer for Project Loon (right) side-by-side.

Alphabet is yet to respond, and we should make it perfectly clear that this is but one (albeit lengthy) side of the story. Until a court of law rules that Alphabet has infringed on a patent, these are all just allegations.

Space Data Corporation is seeking compensatory damages through the courts, and to have Alphabet and Google ordered to no longer use Space Data’s confidential information.

[Source – The Stack] [Image – Google Loon]