back to article Space Data dudes say Google lifted Loon balloon tune

Google parent company Alphabet has been hit with a lawsuit that claims the Mountain View ads giant stole the idea for its Project Loon network. Space Data Corporation of Chandler, Arizona, claims that it holds patents covering a system for using balloons to carry broadband antennae to power a wireless data network. It has …

  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Patent for living in universe supporting Archimedes's principle

    Amazingly, this article has not been penned by O'rly

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I thought you were being a bit sarcastic, but

      ...a couple of claims:

      5. The free floating constellation communications system of claim 2, wherein said regulator regulates the floating of said platform within a predetermined altitude range and comprises a quantity of contained gas having a density less than the density of air within said predetermined altitude range and a controllable vent by which a portion of said quantity of contained gas can be released to reduce the buoyancy of said platform.

      6. The free floating constellation communications system of claim 2, wherein said regulator comprises a quantity of high density material carried onboard said platform and a release device by which a portion of said high density matter can be released to increase buoyancy of said platform.

      Once-upon-a-time the point of patents was disclosing sufficient detail of an invention that a "person having ordinary skill in the art" could then employ it, not that said PHOSITA exclaims "well, duh!"

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: I thought you were being a bit sarcastic, but

        @Mongo: Points 5 and 6 are prior art anyway: the claimants in this case should never have been given a patent.

        In 1783 Jacques Charles made flights in a hydrogen balloon during which he valved off gas to descend (claim 5) and dropped sand to increase his height (claim 6).

        I'm truly amazed how often the US Patent Office screws up by not checking prior art. Does anybody there have even two brain cells to rub together?

        1. Rol Silver badge

          Re: I thought you were being a bit sarcastic, but

          It is pretty well understood by most, that the American Patent Office will issue patents for anything, it matters not one jot what the patent is for, what evidence you provide or whether the application was written in a known language.

          I could quite easily apply for a patent for making a cup of tea, by just writing cup of tea on a piece of paper and then smearing dog excrement underneath it. Just as long as I enclose some money, everything will be fine.

        2. Justicesays

          Re: I thought you were being a bit sarcastic, but

          As per my other comment on the Patent trolls/Brexit thread, all it takes is to change the words from what would normally be used (in this case , s/ballast/high density matter/g), so it doesn't trigger a prior art search match, and you are golden.

          Looks like reading and attempting understanding of the patent is not requirement for the job of US patent examiner, could probably be replaced by a small shell script that simply does searches, mails back matches, or if no matches , passes the patent.

          In fact. maybe that is what happened and you'll actually find all the patent examiners at the beach , or running second businesses as patent attorneys on the side in their copious free time.

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. BitterExScientist

        Re: I thought you were being a bit sarcastic, but


        As much as I object to bs patents... I must be pedantic here.

        You are looking at dependant claims and they should be read as giving specific versions of claim 2. The sillyness is to avoid someone else patenting claims 5 and 6 while accomplishing what your patent does and then suing you for the usage of your own patented invention no matter how obvious the additions were. Dependant claims often serve to illustrate how the invention is used. However, the independent claims are fair game.

        Also, implementation details and how to create said invention are not put into the claims section...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I thought you were being a bit sarcastic, but

          Thanks for the education; much cheaper than talking to a patent attorney :-) Enumerating all likely specific versions of a claim seems akin to those stories where all of the fairies must be invited to a royal christening for fear that they feel slighted and curse the child: inevitably one gets overlooked and so is all the more wrathful for feeling that the exclusion is by design

    2. vgrig_us

      Re: Patent for living in universe supporting Archimedes's principle

      "Amazingly, this article has not been penned by O'rly"

      That was my first reaction: i usually can tell O'rly articles just by headline, but got fooled this time.

      Also no mention of Google pulling out of the deal because SDC had blabbed about it to the Wall Street Journal - according to some other articles on the net.

  2. Dadmin

    I just forked your ballon, guy!

    Here's probably what happened; 1) G gets an idea for a balloon with some wifi onboard, like that's a stretch, 2) they do a search (haha) and find SkyNet, or whoeverthefuck, and approach them to share tech and do some kind of deal which is the right way to go about it, 3) $kyNet $ee$ dollar $ign$ in their eye$ and gets fucking goofy with pricing and being there first(most likely because they are charging the government an arm and a leg for this not-very-advanced tech), 4) G says go F yourself, SkyNet we can just float a goddamn ballon with a router on it too, it's not that fucking special, idiots, 5) saddened by reality SkyNet runs to papa, waaah waaah waaah!

    Overcharging the government for this mostly crap idea must be such a great deal that SkyNet doesn't need any other folks doing the same for less, or for free. For Google, floating balloons with wifi is not going to make them money directly, just like the Google Fiber towns. They do it for exposure and to undercut shitty local telcos still living in the 1950s. Don't like their Google-Everywhere approach, then subscribe to some shitty carrier like AT&T and pay the same as the government for ordinary speed access for you Mr. Customer45783992418325564. BEEEEEP

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: I just forked your ballon, guy!


      The first part of your post is no doubt correct.

      If they have a patent, no matter how stupid or obvious, they can force Google to spend a lot of money defending themselves.

      It might just be cheaper to cut a deal.

      What's that called now? Oh yes. Extortion.

      1. KrisMac

        Re: I just forked your ballon, guy!

        True that patent extortion is clearly the game being played here, but Google are probably just about big enough to be able to buy the referees - as in, they might just about have enough weight to overcome the Patent Office inertia and force a review of the patents in question...

        ...maybe... that is a lot of inertia...

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: I just forked your ballon, guy!

          They could just buy the company and fire everyone...

  3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Hmm. What I'd like to know is what happened between 2008 (last talks about a cooperation) and 2016 (lawsuit). Eight years seem like a long time to make up one's mind.

    So, again, what happened or changed? Found a backer? Got on somebodies payroll? Is Thiel backing this? Is this supposed to be somebodies pension plan? Inquiring minds, etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward



  4. imanidiot Silver badge

    smart move or loonie move?

    If I were that company I'd have left my patebts out of this. Breaking the NDA is much easier to prove and a heavy enough reason to get google to shut down their loonie project. NOW they risk Google bringing in a "person skilled in the art" who goes " well duhh" and invalidates their patent. Throwing their nice little niche wide open.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An alternative view is ..

    .. that a company shared information and Google took it without paying.

    That too is straight out of the MS playbook, namely Stac Electronics vs Microsoft. I think we passed the risk of confirmation bias here.

  6. Mage Silver badge


    They used radio on balloons in WWI with Morse code.

    Tethered observation blimps used a cabled telephone connection.

    It's such a simple and obvious thing to use balloons as data repeaters (which is what Loon does) I can't see why there are patents.

    The Elephant in the room is that Loon needs its own licensed spectrum and is irresponsible and pointless. Even if it was sensible, we now know that Alphabet/Google are totally untrustworthy and not fit people to act as an ISP.

    1. killakrust

      Re: WWI

      From Project Loon homepage: "By partnering with Telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum we’ve enabled people to connect to the balloon network directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. The signal is then passed across the balloon network and back down to the global Internet on Earth.".

      It does not seem irresponsible or pointless to have the facility to quickly set up a cellular network after a disaster. I don't understand how you came to your conclusions??

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    High data rate time critical networks are not new

    Ideas are easy to steal

  8. Mike 16 Silver badge

    Do Loons really use those claims?

    Claims 5 and 6 describe (as Marin Gregorie points out) 18th century tech. By the late 19th century altitude control (at least for trim) could be handled by the partial inflation of ballonets inside the larger main balloon.

    If a Loon is going to be up there for a while, and "navigating" by changing altitude to catch wind from a different direction, an altitude control method that relies on using up a finite supply of lifting gas and ballast is going to lose badly to a method that only requires a compressor or the like, driven by the same power sourse as the RF gear. Sure, they would use release of lift gas for final descent or in emergency, but since that method is over 200 years old (as opposed to merely 140 or so), it is unlikely to still be patented, even in the U.S.

  9. ma1010


    As many others have pointed out, the "novel idea" this patent is supposed to cover is very much prior art. Add to the list of prior users ham a large number of radio operators who have used balloons to lift antennas many times before, especially for emergency communications purposes in difficult terrain when using VHF or higher frequencies. I suppose this outfit will want to sue THEM, too.

    Fun fact: If you use enough power, you can sometimes get the gas in the balloon to fluoresce when you transmit.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Ridiculous!

      "Fun fact: If you use enough power, you can sometimes get the gas in the balloon to fluoresce when you transmit."

      That would make for a nice display on New Year's Eve or other festive occasions.

  10. BitterExScientist

    Please learn how to read patents.

    As bad as all the X + internet ridiculously broad patents are that doesn't mean they all are.

    This one doesn't remotely cover the broad concept of balloon networks nor the broader concept of balloon maneuvering as commentors here think. This one is narrowly written to cover a method to create such a network with broad stable network coverage by taking advantage of very high altitude weather behavior and is carefully drafted to stand up to challenge.

    If Google's implementation fails to use any one part of the independent claim, they're perfectly free to do it. The dependant claims people are getting excited about place further restrictions on how the actual invention could be implemented.

    You can safely launch your own balloon network without getting sued by them by for example staying below 40000 ft

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