Lawsuit alleges Google stole idea for Project Loon from Arizona company

alphabet-project-loon
Space Data Corporation has put a pin in Google’s balloons. The Arizona company is suing Google; its parent company, Alphabet; and experimental labs X over Project Loon, a moonshot experiment to provide internet access via solar-powered balloons.

X, formerly known as Google X before the Alphabet Inc. reshuffling, attempts to make such moonshot projects a reality. Current and previous projects include Glass, which became Google Glass; Google Watch, which turned into Android Wear; self-driving cars; and Project Wing.

Project Loon is also a current wild experiment that uses large solar-powered balloons with wireless routers that fly through the earth’s stratosphere, above planes and weather, to bring internet access to anyone who needs it.

But Space Data Corporation says Google stole its trade secrets after a meeting in 2007 between company executives — the Arizona company has its own balloon technology and provides wireless services to oil companies and the U.S. Armed Services, according to Fortune. And so Space Data claims Google has been infringing on two of its patents related to making those airborne networks and “safely retrieving ‘lighter-than-air’ objects from the sky.”

Google contemplated purchasing Space Data Corporation back in 2007, and while it was deciding, the two companies signed a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA. While discussions continued, Space Data gave away its trade secrets, business concepts, and confidential information about its balloon technology to Google.

A Google spokesperson told Digital Trends the company respectfully declines “to comment at this time as we’re still reviewing.”

Alphabet CEO Larry Page and president Sergey Brin, who are also Google’s co-founders, attended these talks on February 15, 2008, along with two other Google employees, according to Fortune citing the lawsuit documents. They were given demonstrations, and there’s even a photograph of Brin with one of Space Data’s balloons.

A few days later, on February 24 of that year, a Google employee told Space Data that the search giant would “not engage in further discussions” with the Arizona company. The reason? According to the lawsuit, Google didn’t like that Space Data blathered about its business to the Wall Street journal in a February 20, 2008, article — the article even mentioned that Google was interested in contracting with or acquiring the company.

After discussions ended, the lawsuit claims that unofficial work on Project Loon began, although the project was officially announced in 2013. Space Data says Project Loon has damaged its reputation and business “among potential and existing customers, business partners, investors, and in the industry in general.”

It’s unclear why the company waited so long, but the lawsuit is a means to put an end to Project Loon — to stop Google from using the company’s trade secrets. Of course, the company is seeking an unspecified amount of compensation and punitive damages.

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