Google’s Project Loon aims to bring internet access to the entire world using giant floating balloons. Sounds like a pretty original idea, right? But it turns out Mountain View could have borrowed the concept straight from another company.
Space Data filed a legal complaint against Google this week in California, pointing to a pair of patents filed over a decade ago that look pretty similar to Project Loon. The first patent, which dates back to 1999, details plans for a Wi-Fi balloon system. The second, which was filed a few years later in 2001, deals with recovering the balloons.
Of course, Google has Project Loon patents too, but they’re more recent and don’t mention Space Data. There’s also no evidence that Space Data ever licensed its technology out.
The Arizona company actually offers two products called SkySat and SkySite that are pretty similar to Project Loon. It also has the FCC licenses necessary to operate in areas like Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico where internet access is scarce.
Even worse, Google was apparently aware of Space Data before Project Loon launched. The search giant’s co-founders actually visited the smaller company back in 2008 and reportedly signed a non-disclosure agreement at the time. Now Space Data is arguing that Google broke that legal agreement.
Google declined to comment when The Verge asked about the case, but we doubt the company will be slowing down its Project Loon plans anytime soon. At the very least, though, the tech giant may owe some compensation to Space Data.