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Google accused of stealing technology for balloon project

Texas residents may have seen reports about the white air balloons that Google has been launching above remote areas of the world to provide those areas with Internet service. Google's Project Loon launched its first air balloons in 2013 and the company has flown them over Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. Now, a company called Space Data is claiming that Project Loon was created using stolen trade secrets.

Space Data filed a lawsuit against Alphabet Inc., the parent company of research firm Google X, in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. At the heart of the lawsuit is the claim that Google executives were granted access to Space Data's facilities where they learned how the company's technology worked. Although both companies signed a mutual confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement, Space Data claims that Google stole its technology and violated two of its patents.

According to the lawsuit, around 12 Google employees visited Space Data's Arizona location in 2008. While there, the Google employees learned about the company's altitude-controlled balloons that deliver wireless communications to remote areas. Space Data says that it engaged in extensive discussions with Google about the technology and showed Google its network operation center and balloon production line. Since the meetings, Space Data says that Google has given press conferences that suggest it has used the air balloon technology without Space Data's permission.

The protection of intellectual property can be very important for technology companies. Even after a company has obtained patents, company executives may want to have their attorneys draft nondisclosure agreements for added safeguards against infringement as well as misappropriation of trade secrets.

Source: ZDNet, "Google accused of stealing Project Loon technology," Stephanie Condon, June 16, 2016

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