Google is facing accusations that it stole the technology behind one of its most intriguing moonshots, Project Loon. The project involves beaming internet down to remote areas from unmanned balloons circling the skies. A company called Space Data, which is also using balloons for the same purpose, filed a lawsuit against Google parent Alphabet, which alleges that Google execs violated a non-disclosure agreement and infringed two patents.
Space Data was founded in 1997, the suit reveals, and in 2004 it started its balloon-based commercial internet project. Space Data has a license from the FCC that lets it provide narrowband personal communications services nationwide, and broadband spectrum licenses in remote and rural areas, ZDNet reports. The company serves Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Armed Services deployed on four continents.
How does Google come into play?
It turns out that in February 2008, a dozen Google execs including Larry Page and Sergey Brin visited Space Data’s facilities in Arizona. There, the Google execs were given access to Space Data’s sensitive information, which the company alleges Google used to power its own Project Loon project.
“Space Data and Google engaged in extensive discussions about Space Data’s business, including its technology, and its financial model, and Google was also given access to Space Data’s balloon production line and network operation center where they saw a map of balloons in the sky and the wireless communications coverage Space Data was providing across 1/3 of the United States,” the suit says.
Space Data says that subsequent Google interviews with the press suggest that Google swiped Space Data’s work. Google started its Project Loon operation in 2013, with internet balloons currently deployed in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
The two parties inked a mutual confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement in 2007, before Google’s visit.