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Google Hands SoftBank Patents From Failed Balloon Moonshot

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(Bloomberg) -- Google parent Alphabet Inc., which earlier this year shut down its moonshot project to beam internet service from high-altitude balloons, is passing the baton to Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Corp.

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Alphabet has transfered about 200 patents from its Loon project to the telecoms unit of SoftBank Group Corp., the Japanese company said in a statement on Thursday. SoftBank is developing its own wireless technology that uses fixed-wing autonomous aircraft as a flying base station.

Google launched Loon in 2013 as an ambitious effort to blanket the globe with internet connectivity using giant balloons drifting on currents high in the stratosphere, but was forced to close it after the unit failed to develop a viable business model. SoftBank, one of Japan’s largest wireless operators, invested $125 million in Loon in 2019 for an undisclosed minority stake.

In a separate statement, Alphabet said it also handed over some patents to Raven Industries Inc., its former partner in the project, and made a non-assertion pledge for the free use of 270 patents and applications related to balloon launching, fleet management and more. The search giant open-sourced almost 70 million kilometers (43.5 million miles) of GPS and sensor data.

SoftBank began exploring alternatives to terrestrial antennas after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out a broad swath of its network in Japan. Last September, the company’s solar-powered unmanned aircraft completed its first stratospheric test flight in New Mexico that lasted over 20 hours.

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