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Google accused of racketeering in lawsuit claiming pattern of trade secrets theft

MOUNTAIN VIEW — In an explosive new allegation, a renowned architect has accused Google of racketeering, saying in a lawsuit the company has a pattern of stealing trade secrets from people it first invites to collaborate.

Architect Eli Attia spent 50 years developing what his lawsuit calls “game-changing new technology” for building construction. Google in 2010 struck a deal to work with him on commercializing it as software, and Attia moved with his family from New York to Palo Alto to focus on the initiative, code-named “Project Genie.”

The project was undertaken in Google’s secretive “Google X” unit for experimental “moonshots.”

But then Google and its co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin “plotted to squeeze Attia out of the project” and pretended to kill it but used Attia’s technology to “surreptitiously” spin off Project Genie into a new company, according to the lawsuit.

“The real adding-insult-to-injury was Google telling him the project had been canceled and they weren’t going forward with it when in fact they were going full blast on it,” Attia’s lawyer Eric Buether said in an interview Friday.

Also named as defendants are Google X founder Sebastian Thrun and Eric “Astro” Teller, the head of Google X, who are alleged to have negotiated with Attia over his technology.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a judge in the case noted last year that the firm has argued that Attia gave Google rights to his technology “without a condition of later payment.”

Now Attia has added another allegation to the suit: the Mountain View tech giant’s actions follow a pattern that makes Google guilty of racketeering.

“It’s cheaper to steal than to develop your own technology,” Buether said. “You can take it from somebody else and you have a virtually unlimited budget to fight these things in court.”

Attia’s technology automates certain aspects of building design, to save time and money and allow architects and designers to focus on creative elements, Buether said.

This week, a judge in Santa Clara County Superior Court approved the addition of racketeering claims to the lawsuit originally filed in 2014.

Attia’s legal team uncovered six other incidents in which Google had engaged in a “substantially similar fact pattern of misappropriation of trade secrets” from other people or companies, according to a July 25 legal filing from Attia.

“Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business,” Attia said in the filing.

Six lawsuits against Google, five of them resolved in the company’s favor because of procedural issues, reveal the pattern of intellectual property theft, Buether alleged. The company uses non-disclosure agreements to encourage a target to share confidential information, Buether claimed.

“The person with that NDA feels comfortable in revealing the details of the technology which is proprietary because they see a huge opportunity with a company like Google,” Buether said.

In Attia’s case, Google struck an agreement with him to use his intellectual property and patent some of it, but in spite of using it as the basis for a new firm called Flux Factory, failed to pay him as agreed, Buether claimed.

“It’s even worse than just using the proprietary information — they actually then claim ownership through patent applications,” Buether said.

Flux Factory, according to a filing by Attia, was “simply a reconstitution of Project Genie under a different name.”

Today, Flux Factory is called Flux. Headquartered in San Francisco, it sells building-design software and markets itself as “the first company launched by Google X.”

Attia’s suit seeks unspecified damages and compensation.

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