ART+COM Innovationpool, a German company, accuses Google Earth with patent infringement

A Terravision
A Terravision

The origination of the widely popular application Google Earth is the focus of a patent infringement lawsuit filed on Feb. 20 by ART+COM Innovationpool GmbH (“ACI”) against Google, Inc. in a Delaware federal court.

To view an ART+COM video describing its early Terravision system, click here.

In the lawsuit, ACI, which is a spin off of ART+COM AG, charges that Google Earth products infringe U.S. Patent No. RE44,550, entitled Method and Device for Pictorial Representation of Space-related Data, relating to its Google Earth technology.

Key issues included in the lawsuit are:

  • Google Earth can be traced directly to ACI’s patented method through Google Earth’s “development” history, including current executives;
  • Google Earth bears remarkable similarities to ART+COM’s commercial system, which was developed nearly a decade prior to Google’s introduction of Google Earth; and
  • Google’s infringement has been willful, potentially entitling ACI to treble damages.

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.

The lawsuit identifies current Google executives — Michael Jones, chief technical officer of Google Earth, and Brian McClendon, who heads the Google Geo Group and is vice president of engineering of Google Maps — who previously worked for companies that had access to information regarding the implementation of Terravision, which was ART+COM’s commercial implementation of its patented system.

In the lawsuit ACI states that it believes both Jones and McClendon were aware of Terravision and generally familiar with its capabilities from their tenure with Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI).

“Terravision was developed using Onyx computers of Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) which were the most powerful available at the time for processing and displaying graphical data,” said Detlef Andreovits, of ACI. “In the course of developing Terravision, our inventors worked directly with Michael T. Jones when he was at SGI, where he was our designated contact person. We understand SGI subsequently used Terravision as a demonstration of the capabilities of their Onyx computers.”

Scott Partridge, a partner at Baker Botts L.L.P. and lead counsel for ACI on this matter, said, “The ART+COM patent is not directed to a mere feature of Google Earth. Instead, the patent covers the basic technology that, for example, allows Google Earth users to fly over the earth to a particular destination, and then look at details like weather, buildings, and other images. It operates in a way that is remarkably similar to the Terravision system developed by ART+COM in the mid-90s. It is a fundamental patent.”