Google handed hundreds of patents tied to its failed internet balloon project Loon over to SoftBank

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Google handed hundreds of patents tied to its failed internet balloon project Loon over to SoftBank
A Loon balloon floats through the skies of New Zealand Google X
  • Google parent Alphabet announced it was winding down its internet balloon spinout, Loon, in January.
  • The tech giant transferred around 200 Loon patents to Japanese business partner SoftBank.
  • Alphabet said it hoped to help climate researchers by making troves of Loon data freely available.

Google's parent company Alphabet has handed around 200 patents associated with its failed internet balloon startup, Loon, to Japanese investment giant SoftBank.

Project Loon started out as one of Alphabet's moonshot projects at its experimental division Google X (later known simply as "X"), home to other outside-the-box ideas like Google Glass, self-driving car startup Waymo, and drone delivery firm Wing.

Loon, which hoped to make broadband more accessible using solar-powered balloons, span out from X in 2018 and was categorized as one of Alphabet's "Other Bets."

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But Loon's leadership announced the firm was winding down operations in January, following a "longer and riskier" path to viability than hoped.

Google handed hundreds of patents tied to its failed internet balloon project Loon over to SoftBank
The project's leadership team stand in the remnants of a deflated Loon balloon Google X

Alphabet has now transferred around 200 Loon patents over to SoftBank, which took a $125 million stake in the company in 2019 and is developing its own aerial telecomms tech via its subsidiary, HAPSMobile, the two firms said Thursday. Neither company disclosed terms.

As part of the "Loon Collection" legacy project, Google also announced it would waive its rights to another 200 or so Loon patents, issuing a "non-assertion pledge," under which any individual or company can build on their designs without fear of a lawsuit.

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By effectively open-sourcing a decade's worth of data, the company said it hoped to help "future generations of engineers, communications experts and climate scientists to explore their own radical questions."

"Although the end result of Loon's journey isn't what we'd hoped for, there are important lessons Loon learned along the way that have the potential to support the work of future explorers and innovators," a company spokesperson said.

For anyone keen to catch a final glimpse of a Loon balloon in person, the Smithsonian Institute will soon be displaying one as part of its upcoming "FUTURES" exhibit.

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Insider approached SoftBank for comment.

Are you a current or former Googler with more to share? You can contact this reporter securely using the encrypted messaging app Signal (+447801985586) or email (mcoulter@businessinsider.com). Reach out using a nonwork device.

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