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Google accused of racketeering in lawsuit (mercurynews.com)
417 points by Jerry2 on Oct 7, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 187 comments

> 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.”

So Google's defense isn't even that the substance of the accusations are false, but that they had the legal ability to do so?

Is this common behavior for Google, if the story is true?

This may be naive, but it seems downright illogical to act like that with a reputation as huge and important as Google's. I'd be concerned if I were a collaborator.

> Is this common behavior for Google, if the story is true?

It depends on details of his contract. It's quite plausible his employment contract in "Project X" did say that he would transfer knowledge and ideas in exchange for money. It's pretty standard stuff.

In other words, it might not be exactly a slam dunk case. A racketeering charge seems pretty outrageous as well.

However if Google did these things (which looks like they did), it would make them look shady. Maybe legally in the clear but ethically like you said, it would seem they threw their reputation under the bus.

Maybe once companies are a certain size they think they are untouchable and say stuff like "Yeah this is shady, but we've got lawyers and PR people to handle this, no biggie"

And this is why maybe a charge like racketeering is nice move - it might not be winnable in court, but it is outrageous enough to damage Google's reputation. Had it been some mundane case over a minor legal term, we wouldn't have found out.

Based on my similar experience with Google ATAP I bet they do this a lot! I've detailed my experience below...


Oh wow. That was pretty brazen of them. They sized you up and decided "What's the chance they'll have resources to sue us? No much probably. So just take their idea and go with it".

I hope you reached out to the legal team pursuing this case.

>"It's quite plausible his employment contract in "Project X" did say that he would transfer knowledge and ideas in exchange for money."

I'm curious about your comment that this is "pretty standard stuff." Do you mean in the context of Google X agreements? Do you transfer intellectual property to them as part of the employment contract?

Are you paid a flat fee? Do they pay a "kill" fee if Google X ultimately decides not pursue your idea and terminates your employment agreement?

In general in employment contracts in technology it seems. Any software written or ideas related to the field of employment get transferred to the employer. In some cases (have read it on HN here) people have successfully modified their employment contract to exclude some of the clauses like that.

> Are you paid a flat fee? Do they pay a "kill" fee if Google X ultimately decides not pursue your idea and terminates your employment agreement?

No idea, maybe someone could share. I would imagine it is a customized contract tailed for each contributor / collaborator. The important bit is it is a contract, so unless it is illegal any "kill" clauses could have been put in there.

I recently turned down a job offer citing an overly broad IP clause. I had a call within minutes offering me a choice of how else it could be worded.

I still turned it down and decided to go freelance instead because the contracts I had read had raised all kinds of personal questions.

I received a one-month contract—teaching, not developing—from a subsidiary of a large education company. I had to consult a lawyer and fight with them for a week over the contract's overly broad IP claims. They basically wanted ownership of teaching ideas I—or my partner (!)—came up with in perpetuity! I eventually got them to change it to my satisfaction, and had a great teaching experience with a cool group of students, but it really soured my relationship with the company and now i can't imagine working with them again.

"This is the first time anyone's had a problem with this," the subsidiary's h.r. rep told me. This approach impacts people who have had experience with contracts and lawyers, and thus aligns with age discrimination.

Any ideas you disclose to your company while your an employee could surely belong to you, that's reasonably standard.

As for 'your partner' - that seems pretty crazy, and I don't understand how that would hold up for a second in court.

As for 'perpetuity' - meaning - ideas you had long after employment? Or - that they'd own the ideas you give them while employed, forever. If the later, well, again I think that's somewhere near standard. If the former, that's beyond crazy and I think not even enforceable.

But the 'partner' bit alone seems beyond creepy because their lawyers are not stupid, they must know it's a pretty wobbly thing not likely to stand up in court, ergo it's kind of a scare tactic.

> Is this common behavior for Google, if the story is true?

Google/GV was shit listed by a bunch of startup founders in Portland many years ago because they "stole a company" they were partnering with there. The founder was somebody everybody liked and PDX tech didn't take it well (and yes, we all talk to each other).

This does happen and you need to be very careful with these sorts of arrangements. They know they put stars in people's eyes and I've seen them take advantage of it.

> with a reputation as huge and important as Google's

Not trolling: What reputation?

Among non-techies, their reputation is one of creepy and spying.

Among techies, it's that company that keeps killing loved products.

Among developers, it's one of terrible support and awful job interviews.

Common to everyone is they are impossible to get hold of, a faceless and heartless machine that makes decisions you can't argue with.

None of this matters because they have the best products on the market in a few key areas and everyone keeps using those regardless of their reputation.

So what reputation do they have to lose? Their reputation is already bad, and it doesn't matter anyway, and they presumably know this as well as everyone else does.

You're living in a bubble if you think Google has a bad reputation; in fact, they're the sixth-most admired company in the world: http://fortune.com/worlds-most-admired-companies/list

Keep in mind that the list linked is specifically for investors, with criteria like "Long-term investment value" and "Ability to attract and retain talented people". Also the data collection was complete by January, which makes it almost a year old at this point.

Google has had four lawsuits which look bad for them make Hacker news or the reddit front page in the last year, which I can't imagine is good for their PR. Anecdotally, I also see a lot of people in tech where I work growing a disdain for them, including myself. I went so far as to buy a new phone to put LineageOS on a few weeks ago because I don't like the direction the company is heading.

Your source being investor centric aside, IMO a lot of the leftover public goodwill is probably a result their discarded slogan / philosophy of “Don’t be evil”. Just as Google’s behavior has changed over time post motto, so will the general public’s perception. It’ll catch up sooner or later

Admired by whom? Fortune magazine editors? Those aren't one of the relevant categories.

Well, it wasn't the opinion of the editors, but of business leaders; as for the general public, Google still ranks very high: https://www.thebalance.com/retail-brands-with-the-best-reput... and https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2017/02/28/the-w...

   2015 - #10
   2014 - #14
   2013 - #4
   2012 - #2
   2011 - #1
This looks like a collapsing reputation to me. Perhaps it hasn't fully collapsed yet, but you can see how big a hit it took recently.

Yeah, at this rate they might only be the twentieth most popular brand by 2020! The horror!

This really counts as collapse to you? How many companies would kill to be that widely recognized?

Sagging, maybe. Caused by collapsing moral fortitude, maybe.

But even being on the list means it hasn't collapsed.

... among readers of Fortune magazine.

And among current Google employees it's one of exhalted prestige and boundless trustworthiness.

Before Uber became Public Enemy #1 and prior to the Otto/Levandowski dispute, Google was planning on competing with Uber despite being an investor, which led Kalanick to e-mail David Drummond about it [1]. Drummond eventually left Uber's board (which harkens back to Schmidt leaving Apple's board) but this was well after the relationship had been deteriorating.

[1] http://static4.businessinsider.com/image/595ea97dd9fccd31008...

Was that really surprising? The company that builds the first self driving cars will have an easy entrance into the ride service industry.

I'm not sure how that's relevant to the discussion.

No worries, they'll release a Parsey McParseface and then the world knows again that they're just a geeky tech startup having some fun.

Google is an advertising company. They can easily sacrifice reputation where it brings them the most profit and fix it again with a bit of PR.

> So Google's defense isn't even that the substance of the accusations are false, but that they had the legal ability to do so?

Without additional context of the judges statement (or, better, either the actual filings in the case), that's far from clear.

It's not impossible or even uncommon for a defendant in a case to make an argument in the style of “I didn't take it, and, even if I had, I had permission to take it.”

You can't infer the nonexistence of the first part of the claim from the existence of the second.

>> So Google's defense isn't even that the substance of the accusations are false, but that they had the legal ability to do so?

But they were under NDA not to disclose the ideas, and yet they started a company marketing a product based on those ideas. If this is a correct interpretation, they don't have the legal ability to do so.

Of course the wording of the NDA is everything in a case like this. I'm assuming Google wrote the NDA when this guy should have provided one for Google to sign.

How many of your NDAs have you gotten huge silicon valley companies to sign? If you're a little guy, that never happens.

I know we're all speculating here but what is there to lose? Option 1: Sign my NDA or fuck off. Option 2: Show them everything and then they tell you to fuck off and steal your idea. At least with Option 1 you have some protection.

Different equation if you need money/investment. But if you're already up, running and growing it's easier to play hard ball and demand an NDA.

I'm not speculating about my experiences working for a couple of startups in Silicon Valley... I signed a bunch of NDAs. I have no idea what happened to the author of this article.

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.”

This is why, when you visit Google, you should never sign the overreaching NDA for a visitor's badge. You still get a visitor's badge; it just has a warning on it so Googlers know not to tell you too much.

The plaintiff's lawyers say that Google has won five out of six similar lawsuits on procedural grounds so looks like pretty common.

As for reputation, why would a behemoth like Google care if they squash a little guy (or two, or a dozen)? Even if they go on a PR offensive they still won't be able to outmatch or shout over Google. At most people like the HN audience will find out and then... proceed to do nothing because Google's products are either ubiquitous (like search) or first-in-class (because they are free, like email).

> Is this kind of behavior common for Google?

That is, in fact, exactly what the case is trying to demonstrate by referring to several other lawsuits against Google for similar acts. Remains to be seen if it works.



Is that confirmed anywhere more reputable? Daily Mail doesn't exactly have a stellar track record if I recall correctly.

As a former insider, I can tell you likely pre-story which might cast a different light on this:

* Google employee comes up with an idea.

* They go and research the idea to check if there are any already existing companies which do it.

* If any are found, they meet and decide if they should buy the company, reinvent the idea, or that it isn't relevant.

* If, after investigation it is determined the company's tech isn't good enough, they will re-invent. Google has fairly strict tech requirements (no php, no shady licenses/ownership, no pirated stuff, etc.), so many companies don't pass.

* When they reinvent, they will do it "clean room" - ie. none of the people who reviewed the original company will be involved in the re-invention.

This story showed more than meeting or talking though. Agreements of some sort were signed, and he was asked to move out to Google and work with them.

Sounds like Google's position is that they did do what was alleged, but that Attia had signed terms that made it legal.

What you described above is similar. Legal, but shitty. Some amount of information obtained under false pretenses is surely passed to the "clean room" team. Otherwise, why meet with the target at all?

Edit: This Verge story has pretty good detail on the backstory: https://www.theverge.com/2015/2/17/8048779/google-x-eli-atti...

Offhand it definitely sounds like the clean room concept basically distills what they want to steal/"reinvent" into a requirement document.

I guess it gives the employees plausible deniability, but the company knows what it's doing.

Your post doesn't shed a new light on anything. At best, that's the equivalent of a big firm going through deep "technical due diligence" with a startup's technology under the guide of a merger. Then, they tell the startup they are not interested and implement the same tech in-house using a "clean room".

It sheds light on the captive mindset of someone inside Google. All it takes to get someone to go along with theft and underhandedness is to dress up the whole thing in bureaucratic process.

> "clean room"

The room can be clean, but what about everything else? There's more to software than the actual written code.

(I'm not being a smart ass, this is an actual question, which is a sad caveat to have to make) does the stuff that isn't code really matter in a court of law? If they went through the steps to "clean" the original viewers, who then wrote up the spec sheet, had that spec sheet reviewed by seperate people, then handed that spec sheet to "clean" engineers, does that work under the law?.... still complete BS, sure, but I'm curious

My example. A company I worked for was bought by Cisco. During the vetting period, people from both companies worked together to see if the deal should move forward.

Part of the contract that both sides had to sign included a clause that everyone that was involved in the vetting process could not work on anything related technology wise for 18 months after if the deal fell through. (As Cisco had a competing product already that our company made).

This was more in cisco's favor as they have a full team that does M&A and handles this vetting. So the engineers involved on cisco's side in the vetting would likely not be key engineers on the product.

Large companies are accustomed to isolating people in M&A deals from the rest of the company to be able to prove clean room easily.

Like project Loon?, or ANS? Copying something verbatim and claiming it yours sure doesnt sound clean room to me.

This is off-topic, but "no php"?

There is a large body of php hating literature. Here's an example: https://eev.ee/blog/2012/04/09/php-a-fractal-of-bad-design/

Guess they would have passed on Facebook then.

And Facebook has written a transpiler to C++, then a new language based on PHP, and a VM for it. Seems like quite an investment.

To over-simplify, Google probably just tunes the Hotspot JVM.

Uh. Google reimplemented all of java for Android. And then invented a whole new language to replace their internal use of C.

And now, of course, dart and flutter, on a new OS to replace the Linux underpinnings.

They did...

Although I’m sure Zuck would have turned them down regardless.

Sure. Still seems an odd arbitrary criteria. Wikipedia seems to do fine with php, as do several other large sites.

Would they pass up booking.com solely because it's Perl? The value there hasn't much to do with the plumbing.

Php today bears little resemblance to the performance drag it was years ago.

I’d wager they’d take a closer look these days.

That said, there is a lot of poorly written legacy php code out there before frameworks really took off for that language.

Most PCs are doing fine with Windows.

Disclosure: Current googler

It used to be a deal-killer. It's less of one now, but that's more because they'll acquire a company and have the staff re-invent the project in one of the "blessed" languages (Java, Python, C++, Go) while they run the old code on isolated VMs.

Actually, they do that even if the project was in one of the blessed languages. There's a tech stack my internal project uses that was acquired. We can't use it for certain sensitive data because it's considered "untrusted", which is kind of a pain. We're waiting for the re-write to stabilize so we can move over to that.

PHP has historically sucked.


I have gotten out of the consulting world a bit, but for a while a php codebase meant I would double my estimated time on any quote I sent out. There is terrible php out there and most of it is vulnerable to every one of the OWASP top 10.

What would you consider an exact replacement? And by exact I mean upload a file and off you go? Ease of installing it on shared web hosts is only really important when empowering wider audience to self-host is a concern, but when it is, is there even just one thing that competes? I'm not saying this to be argumentative, I just ended up using PHP for a bunch of things because it works fine (and minor utilities I wrote like 10 years ago still run perfectly well, minor adjustments required as PHP was upgraded). But my ego isn't in this, I'm a crap coder in any language I use, but being able to run my site on localhost EZ PZ and just upload changed files and the database every now and then is just gold. I'd love to rewrite it to be even faster, and it's not that I find PHP very pretty. But the current iteration just runs so perfectly smoothly I keep putting off the ritual rewriting.

The only other thing I like other than PHP is something that's even dumber, and that's rewriting it in C++. That's the language I love, using it like C with classes instead of structs, and overloaded operators. That's all I ever wanted in life, really. Anything else? Let it mature 10 years, and not be pushed by one of these companies so super keen on being middlemen. Until then I'd rather derp around than buy into any of it.

I know I'm full of it, but here's how I write super secure code: I simply start with nothing, and add things slowly and deliberately. The program doesn't do anything I don't whitelist it to do. Orwell said if people can't write properly, they can't think properly... well, if you need a linter to learn to put a semicolon every single time, or a safe language [sic] to realize you're dealing with user input, can you code properly? I say this as the worst coder in the world, but I still wonder. Orwell probably had people who proofread for him which is where it all falls down, and I honestly don't consider myself a good programmer. I'm not above compiler warnings. But I don't believe in that to the extreme, I don't believe in looking at the GPS instead of the road.

Granted, that's all for things I intend to use for myself, with me being the only user, and I'm also fond of having a local authoritative copy and just syncing the changes one way, other than simple stats that get generated on the server. That way, not having critical data that could be stolen, I only have to worry about maybe rogue files getting dropped on the server. Didn't happen yet, I'm sure if I was paranoid I'd find a way to automate that. Bam, done. Not useful for a lot, but if everybody did that instead of flocking to yet another silo, just make up their own crummy stuff but be as careful as they can while they do it, there'd be a lot less tears over data breaches. Security through individuality.

Okay, I guess I am being argumentative, sorry. But it's not because I feel left behind, it's because I'm bored. Not at the moment, but with web dev trends, and Google. I just have to roll my eyes so much when I see screens of requirements to tinker with the same 3 tutorial type projects. If you need more than PHP to make something like, say, HN or blogspot.com, what are you even doing? And then look at the HTML source of just about any Google page. I don't care what they use to spit that out, I'm sure it's a million best practices used perfectly, but the result turns me off so badly. If that's super useful and fun, good for the people enjoying it, then they won't miss me doing it, too.

Because PHP is objectively a worse tool for its designed purpose than other alternatives.

Ah yes, "objectively".

Can you tell us more about the strict tech requirements?

Are you an insider of this specific case or just another person who knows how Google works internally?

'Clean room' development doesn't necessarily absolve them of IP issues, and of 'nasty tactics' that may not be illegal but which would be hypocritical of a company trying to promote a specific image.

>no php

Are there other languages Google doesn't like?

So the contention is that Google stole his idea for building design software? His representation is a bunch of patent trolls and the suit has already been going on for 3 years. The only news is now they are contending that many major Google products are based on coordinated and systematic IP theft (Search, Ads, Maps, Wallet, Hangouts, Youtube, Android). Pretty sure this is entirely bullshit.

Actual lawsuit: http://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?articl...

Thanks for posting the link. I just read the first several pages, and I disagree with your conclusion.

This was more than a simple idea or patent. It was developed by someone with extensive experience in a vertical industry. Google actually paid to contract with him to develop a proof-of-concept, with the idea if the tech panned out and had market viability, they'd take it to market with him.

Google doesn't hire patent trolls or rely on their expertise in developing products.

The lawsuit is full of hyperbole (which hurts it in IMHO), but the underlying claim looks pretty believable.

I met with Google ATAP in 2013 and had a similar experience. I am and have been an aspiring inventor for the past 10 years.

You can read more about my experience with Google ATAP via this post...


In simple terms, google baited people with good ideas to join google x labs. Then pursued to cancel the projects, and thus cutting out the people who originated these ideas. Finally, google went on to use these ideas to create their own technology, and some have even graduated from Google X Labs.

Basically, evil incubation.

You state it as it is fact. That’s what the plaintiff claims, yes. But it doesn’t mean it’s true.

If, as hinted in the article based off a judge in the case’s remarks, and Google’s defense is “we were under no obligation to compensate him” then it does seem that it is what went down.

They have to deal with thousands of patent trolls. I'm assuming that they have to do this, otherwise they'd set a precedent, not strictly in the court room, that they have been subdued. IANAL, but I think that any firm of this size would be aggressive when you start throwing such statements.

That's simplistic. Why would they go to the trouble of "cutting out the people who originated these ideas" if they are already at X Labs and the project was to continue?

Simple, because then they'd have to share the profits with them.

Google regularly pays "average" employees quarter-million+ a year. It pays its higher-ups millions a year. It pays its superstars many many millions. This is an undisputable fact.

The idea that they'd cut someone out just to not pay them does not match this reality.

Google is big and has plenty of money. It sounds more like politics than anything financially motivated.

I'm not sure why you think politics has anything to do with these sorts of things.

What normally happens in these types of situations is the stakeholders from the company that has just seen the product get together and the boss asks a few questions, such as, "Do we need them to build this?" If nothing was put into place to protect the ip of the inventors, then the idea will frequently get stolen.

Wow this story is shocking. I want to point out it’s quite believable if you look at this situation historically. Microsoft was known for doing this exact same thing. Their tactic was to wine and dine startups, give them the “big megacorp company treatment”, ask them to divulge just a little of how they were doing what they were doing. Then they would go back to Seattle, put out an identical product 6 weeks later, and dare the company to sue them. Also another tactic of theirs was to get their executives or those on their payroll onto the boards of startups, sometimes as advisors, and then feed info back to MSFT. Their behavior has changed a ton from then I want to point out, but now looks like Google has picked up where they left off...

Google did something similar to me as I have detailed in this thread below....


It's very relevant to this story and I think it's important for it to be told to warn other inventors how Google treats the little guy/girl!

Hey have read your story Paul and sorry about that. FWIW even Oracle tried to sue them, and Oracle has never been known for not going 100% ruthless or going cheap on their lawyers / law talent, and even they failed. The only one who can stop them now is the government. Democrats are already lining up against them, and in the congressional district I live in, even the very conservative Lamar Smith recently sent them an angry letter regarding various accusations. They are being hemmed in by both sides, and if politics gets better the cooperation of both parties will lead to their massacre, and if it gets worse, they’ll be the scapegoat likely and equally massacred. I hope that provides some solace. The breakup of Google and Facebook will also unleash a flood of talented engineers for places they are more needed than shitty advertising companies, maybe you can partner with one of them when the dam breaks.

If they released in 6 weeks then they had already created the product before they talked to the startup.

> Their behavior has changed a ton from then ...

Based on?

This is just plain scummy. Their defense is a that it's legal but this is just plain ridiculous. How do you fight a company that has a team of lawyers that can sink you for years and doing so prevents future attempts from happening.

I think the NDA meetings that result in what the lawsuits allege. Note, allege. Should have more stringent regulations to protect the smaller guy. Also google sinking its paws into everything and in many cases misbehaving makes me glad that we have sensible regulations against monopolies if it ever gets that far

It got that far long a few years ago at least. If we had sensible enforcement of the regulations and laws against monopolies, Google would have been broken up already.

Man it would be so terrifying going up against Google in court.

How do you do research? How do you communicate with your lawyer?

They know everything about what you do, when you do it, and who you do it with.

If you sue the phone company, they don't cut off your service or tap your phones.

Source on the tapping your phones part?

Google is embedded in most web services, including this site (as capcha via cloudflare). But, you eventually would learn that non-google services that are mostly as good (except maps), and you would use no-script.

Not really no. Security wise, they remain one of the most badass actors on the field. I am very sure that my data and passwords are safeguarded. Same can't be said about Yahoo, Bing, or other companies/products.

You do realize that there exists software that isn't made by Google, right? Oh, also books exist.

Like, lawyers have their own collections of research they search through, and because they're not all SV tech bros, they're not above making a phone call or meeting in person in one of their offices (and no, not the open kind).

With an android phone perhaps? And did they use Google maps to get the address to meet the person?


There exist other quality search engines like DuckDuckGo. As for anonymity of location: Google would most likely have someone dig through search queries done in the city of the plaintiff/lawyer. VPNs and proxies can help as well as services like Amazon Workspaces. Combining both will mask any trace of your identity pretty well from all but the big 3 government agencies.


DuckDuckGo Search Engine


Amazon Workspaces


VPN Discussion on HN


Will be very interesting to see what happens. I do think that companies as big as google certainly seem untouchable. They have a huge amount of resources that could probably flood you with paperwork and litigation. Kudos to this guy for sticking up for his beliefs, at any cost.

Lets not forget Google trying to steal ANS as their own invention, filling for patents covering >100 countries.

The best way this can affect Google is if the people they want to 'partner' with in the future turn around and tell them: "sorry you guys have a reputation now for being untrustworthy partners. We'd love to work with you but you will have to pay up big and first before we even share even the smallest details"

It has been going on for a while:


This 2008 patent application has a number of interesting illustrations:


(note the actually granted Google patents that reference this one)

Seems like the original idea was LEGO-like modular system of components that can be combined into buildings.

>Seems like the original idea was LEGO-like modular system of components that can be combined into buildings.

Which in itself it is not entirely new and largely pre-dates the advent of computers as we know them today.

In the '80's and '90's there were all sorts of experiments in the field, it was a "trend" explored in many countries, "modular building prefabrication".

I was involved in the time in several projects (and actual constructions) though surely things may have become easier today (thanks to CAD, CAE and new materials/techniques), at the time the results were not as good as hypothized in the patent, aspecially for "civil" buildings.

Specifically there was a definite saving of time in the building phase, BUT the resulting building was either at a "lower" standard/level than a more traditional construction or - to have the same standard/level - the costs were not so much lower.

The base concept has been used for decades in "industrial" buildings, such as factories and warehouses, however those used a much lesser number of different (and simpler) components, and more or less they are anyway always a parallelepiped of some kind.

Simply (and not so surprisingly) the techniques developed at the time for houses/office buildings made only sense in very large scale projects as the cost of (besides constructing them and assembling them) storing, managing and transporting/delivering the components killed the economic savings possible in theory.

If (when) a "build components on demand" scheme and a "continuous flow of production" was possible it did make sense, unfortunately this is not what normally happens in the real world, there were months/years when the production was lower than demand and then for whatever reasons there were months/years with no or very low demand, thus costs of plants ate the savings.

(Thanks for the perspective, that was interesting.)

Btw, modular/semi-modular home construction is a pretty big thing here in Sweden. Seems like most standalone homes are built that way nowadays. I had earlier assumed it was similar elsewhere, but it seems like it isn't dominant in most other places.

I guess our horrible climate makes it nicer/more profitable to build modules in a climate-controlled factory than on a wintery/coldish/raining building site. Contrast that to e.g. California - decent climate all year around. I'm also guessing that our high taxes on work and a lack of a low-paid builder workforce also contributes to making automation of housing module manufacturing worthwhile.

See e.g.


(It's not just one house manufacturing company doing these, there are loads of them around the country; I think the typical size is a couple of hundred people. With lots and lots of automation. Not quite sure why large-scale consolidation hasn't happened yet - I'm guessing it's because these companies tend to be privately/family-owned.)


"About 84% of detached houses in Sweden use prefabricated timber elements, while in developed economies such as the US, Australia and the UK, no more than 5% of permanent housing has any significant prefabrication."

>I guess our horrible climate makes it nicer/more profitable to build modules in a climate-controlled factory than on a wintery/coldish/raining building site. Contrast that to e.g. California - decent climate all year around. I'm also guessing that our high taxes on work and a lack of a low-paid builder workforce also contributes to making automation of housing module manufacturing worthwhile.

Sure, that's part of the reasons, but while smallish, "standalone" homes (1-5 floors) can be (and are actually) prefabricated (particularly if based on timber elements, but not only) the mentioned patent (and the personal experience I reported) was for "large" condo or office type buildings, multi-storey (6 or more floors), with a steel or concrete structure, that however allow (or allowed) the architect to introduce his/her own designs (within limits).

BTW - and as a side note - timber based construction have a lot of issues in many countries where strict fire regulations exist, generally speaking single or few apartments homes "fly below" the requirements, but large condos, office and public buildings would never meet fire standards or - in order to respect them - have an unbearable building overcost when compared to steel/concrete.

But what I was trying to highlight is that while prefabricating allows definitely for faster building (and this is particularly evident in the countries, like your Sweden, where the climate is adverse) the claim (of the patent) to save 30 or 40% of the building costs is hard to believe.

I mean, one thing is an alternative technology, and another one is an alternative technology capable of saving several tens per cent of the building costs.

The usual (traditional) reference for prefabricated houses (I am not in any way affiliated to them) in Europe is the (German) HufHaus (which is in the business by some 100 years or so) :


AFAIK at the end of the day they provide exceptionally well engineered and built products but their cost is on par with (in some cases higher than) a "same level" locally built house.

A key point (that many people seem to forget) which makes me personally (where possible) support the prefabricated home concept is that the quality you can obtain in the factory (because of the "right" environment, because the actual workers are highly specialized in each specific task they do, because each and every detail has been already engineered, tested, failed and re-engineered to near perfection) rarely can be obtained locally, still I never found a big difference costwise.

Yeah, sure, I got the difference between these prefab home modules vs prefab parts for very large buildings. I don't really expect these things to translate into the building of 20+ story office/apartment skyscrapers. Totally different domains.

I think that last paragraph (about specialization vs being a local jack of all trades) has a loth of truth to it.

Having lived in the Swedish outback.. without these modular homes made in factories it's all about your personal connections to local people who can do building work. There is no other way of making sure that your house gets built correctly. This obviously doesn't make for a very dynamic marketplace. People get screwed constantly. (So that's a plus for prefab factories - it's a lot easier to screen their quality than for individual contractors - out of sheer volume of customers.)

The article presents only one side of the story.

I have never heard of Google being accused of something similar in the past. Does anyone have any pointers to similar incidents?

It also presents Google’s answer, which was

> that Attia gave Google rights to his technology “without a condition of later payment.”

They admit they did it, but claim they were in the right to do it.

So it devotes one article to one side, and six words (a quote of a quote) to the other side. That doesn't seem very even handed. News outlets profit when people get outraged; why would you trust this one to be disinterested?

Could that mean that the condition was immediate payment? (Salary,bonus, stock, ...)

Or it could have been that he only gets paid if that very specific project would make profit, etc.

There’s many way to write such a contract.

I had a similar experience with Google; a mutual NDA was signed as seen here https://goo.gl/K9Wd1U.

- Feb 2013 created SpeakerBlast; turn multiple devices into one sync speaker via a URL

- March 2013 Samsung released the Galaxy 4 with Group Play (same concept as SpeakerBlast)

- April 2013 Google/Motorola emails/calls me asking would I sell SpeakerBlast for inclusion into the Moto X

- May 2013 Fly out from Baltimore to demo/meet with Google ATAP in the hopes of fulfilling my goal/dream of being a successful inventor. During the meeting they bait my partner and I for our secret sauce then leave the room. They come back and say time to go and lead us to the elevator and say the race is on. See ya!

As the David in this David n Goliath story I have no idea if our work was used in Chrome Audio or not. The head of that unit is run by the Google ATAP tech lead we met with.

Ive heard this is just how it is in Silicon Valley.. treat the little guy and girls like crap. Take their hard work, steal it and stomp on them. Things need to change!!!

This has been the valley formula for at least 20 years now.

First company I worked for wrote Palm software. Palm starts a conversation with us--allegedly on how they could improve their OS for developers--and starts asking fairly specific questions about our product.

Three months later they come out with a copy of it.

Worse still, before that happened Intellisync sued us for patent infringement on our own algorithm. The boss didn't bother to patent it figuring that it had prior-art all over it. That didn't stop the USPTO from issuing Intellisync a patent though. Our attorney was sure we could win, IF we felt like investing a few years and a few $M into the legal battle.

Thanks for sharing this. Sorry to hear about how you were given the run around.

It reminded me of the advice from one of Paul Graham's essays: Don't Talk to Corp Dev [1]

>Distractions are the thing you can least afford in a startup. And conversations with corp dev are the worst sort of distraction, because as well as consuming your attention they undermine your morale.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/corpdev.html

This advice is gold. But it isn’t easy to overcome the temptation of imagining that any convo with any division of mega Corp is the lucky break you always hoped for.

>But it isn’t easy to ...

Surely that's a significant understatement. Once mega copy dev has planted that idea in one's mind it must be hard to kill off. So maybe one needs to have thought about the possibility of an unwelcome approach and have a plan to kill it.


1. Ask mega corp to authenticate themselves - maybe by posting a pre-agree shared secret on their corporate blog.

2. Post the approach from mega copy dev on one's own blog telling them to go away. Eg. "I received the following unwelcome approach from a large Mountain View search company - details redacted (snark) ..."


This is the price of weakening patents. When corporations were afraid of patent holders, this happened less. The great fear was, you infringe a patent, you get shut down. That happened to Kodak when they tried to get into instant photography in violation of Polaroid's patents. Kodak was forced to exit the instant camera business within 30 days and buy back every instant camera they'd sold.

This seems to have started around 1976/1977. Polaroid wasn't exactly a tiny startup then, so they had the financial resources to defend themselves.


"In 1977, (Polaroid) revenues reached $1 billion"

The lawsuit took 15 years to settle:


> The lawsuit took 15 years to settle

Which doesn't contradict that thing about Kodak initially having to remove their products from the market within 30 days, of course.

My main beef was that Animat's comment seemed to say (or at least imply) that back then, patents protected smaller companies against larger bullies - which seems off since Polaroid was a billion dollar business at the time. I'm sure Kodak was larger (update: I just found a figure of $5.9B revenue for 1977), but still. A yearly revenue of a billion dollars does mean you are able to defend yourself, even if it gets prolonged - as evidenced by the case dragging out for 15 years...

In what way do you think that patents have been weakened? AIA changed to first-to-file, 20 years and added PTAB but how have issued and in force patents been weakened?

- Injunctions are much harder to get since eBay v. MercExchange.[1]

- Post-grant proceedings are easy to start and delay enforcement.

[1] https://www.apks.com/en/perspectives/publications/2016/06/20...

IPR is relatively inexpensive and quick. They must be filed within 9 months and filing costs are borne by the challenger.


I can't agree that this strictly benefits the challenger. A well funded challenger was going to challenge anyways. This lowers the costs for both sides.

I'll have to read up on the EBay case.

Thats funny, after working with most major device manfacturers on digital video for 2 years (2009-2010), I submitted a similar concept to YC in late 2010 but received no reply. My core point was mobile device manufacturers desperately need a USP and this would work nicely combined with some DSP based nearby device playlist remixing and possibly a heartbeat sense and some GPS smarts. You know for shared sports like cycling and jogging and rowing and stuff. Perfect sync not required, since everyone is on earbuds. Vary the music as you go over the hill, the sun sets, tempo manipulation, auto-transitioning between tracks, etc. Would work just as well for smarter playlists while driving. Tech's all there these days, still not aware of anyone who has done it. If you make millions on it wire me 100k. :)

Is there anything like AppleScript for iOS to control apps?

Traktor for iOS lets you select songs by beats per minute and adjust their speed to synchronize multiple tracks at once. If it adjusted target music tempo with heart rate, speed, rate of altitude change etc as inputs then your product would be realized.

If you've developed ideas on what are the best ways to choose tempos why not consider contacting Native Instruments?

A possible explanation: Google was interested in your technology. They setup a meeting. After you gave them more details, they decided that your technology wasn't anything special, and they passed. No particular malice here.

Your job during an M&A meeting is to convince the other side that you have unique technology and knowledge that will be very costly to replicate. You are trying to sell your technology.

Why don't you reverse engineer the Chromecast technology and build a case for yourself that's backed by evidence instead of continually regurgitating the same story over and over again?

You should join the lawsuit or at least talk with their lawyers, I'm sure they would be very interested in talking with you.

> Things need to change!!!

How should things change? I genuinely feel for you so keep the rest of what I'm going to say at arms distance.

The way I see it, you are essentially asking people not to learn from each other. Software is not basic science where, if you discover a process or a particle, you are putting into words something outside the human brain.

Software (mathematical formulations aside) describes how the brain works. Anyone can hear a high level description of your SpeakerBlast an imagine a way to sync speakers. Their implementation might be radically different to yours but there is no way for you to stop me from imagining a solution based simply on your two sentence description of the product.

If you want to learn more about this process, there's a book by a neuroscientist, The Tell-Tale Brain by VS Ramachandran, which delves into the process of mirroring and meme spreading.

>The way I see it, you are essentially asking people not to learn from each other.

I dont think he sayimg anything like that. There's a big difference between learning from each other and baiting you for your secret sauce.

1. Baiting is learning though.

2. "Baiting" is an opinion. I have no doubt OP got baited in his view but to Google, it might have been simply the asking of questions.

Maybe the questions were asked to make sure OP's technology was sufficiently different and inferior to whatever they themselves launched. If that were the case, it wouldn't be baiting. It'd be discovery.

I don't think the problem would be the learning in this scenario. The problem would be not compensating the educator.

Say I hear from you that it's possible to sync speakers and repeat this to my best engineers. Just the notion of syncing speakers reveals nothing about how it's done so neither my engineers nor I have "learnt" anything.

The engineer goes and puts together a prototype which gets enterprise buy-in and is released to the general public.

Who is the teacher in this case? I'd argue that no one taught anyone anything.

Oh, btw OP's post taught you to watch out for your intellectual property when negotiating with anyone. Will you now compensate him every time you walk into a meeting and remind yourself not to give away your trade secrets?

Completely unrelated to the issue at hand. What is the connection you are implying?

There is a context to intellectual property. If you sign an NDA to get some information and then use it to launch a new product this argument will not hold to any judge in your defense?

There is also a huge difference between 2 individuals exchanging ideas and a large corporate specifically seeking you out for your idea to steal it. It's difficult to see how anyone can conflate the two.

Did you patent your IP first?

There is no benefit in complaining here. If you actually care, this sounds like it’s your opportunity to get a lawyer for some minimal amount of money to reach out to Attia’s lawyers and see if they’re interested. It seems they are pooling past examples demonstrating similar behavior.

Of course there's a reason to complain here. I can hardly think of a better place to get the word out to technology entrepreneurs if your goal is to do so.

(Not to imply anything about the truth or falsity of the allegations. I don't know whether any are true.)

I don’t mean a general benefit, I mean for the GP. Anything he says now without legal advisement is a liability should he choose to persue legal action.

Seriously guys. You might think it’s just online venting but these law firms dig everything up.

Just for context, Eli Attia, the architect, is not really the one pursuing the claim against Google here.

A company called Max Sound [1], whose only line of business seems to be suing Google, bought rights to sue over this in May 2014 and then sued Google in Dec 2014 [2]. They seem to have filed at least one other somewhat questionable lawsuit against Google in the past [3].

[1] http://maxd.audio/

[2] http://app.quotemedia.com/quotetools/newsStoryPopup.go?story...

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-max-sound-google-lawsuit/m...

Hmm, all these news just tell me the winning strategy is no longer being generous like it was in 00s, where free/open source/access exploded, rather selfishly secretively keep all information to your advantage to yourself. Not sure I'd like to live in such a society. Can't wait to have enforced-by-automation toxic daily life.

This is the way it has always been.

The Valley is a paradox of open/fsf types and mega corps which can simultaneously be very good and very evil.

Google's ownership of the web could enable them to do a zillion evil things if they wanted to, which they don't.

Google could easily control the outcomes of elections.

They could easily sell companies the ability to change how their company is perceived, rankings etc.

Granted some of that may actually be illegal, but I think if G were a regular corp they'd have tried to do some really bad things.

That said, I do think they do some bad things.

So it's a paradoxy kind of thing.

From Edison to Jobs its the American way..

Funny how we were told Larry Page was weeping when he learned the fate of Nikola Tesla...

Maybe he was weeping over the lost opportunity.

>Google's leadership profoundly betrayed the longtime personal trust and friendship of Apple's leadership in stealing what Steve Jobs believed were Apple's most prized possessions.

You may think it’s a coincidence, but then you realize it isn’t.


Ah yes, Steve Jobs would be quite the guy to lecture anyone about betrayls of trust and friendship.

I'm not sure why this is getting downvoted. Early on he blatantly cheated Wozniak: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/steve-wozniak-cried-jobs-kept-atari...

Remember when they (Adobe, Apple Inc., Google, Intel, Intuit, Pixar, Lucasfilm and eBay [1]) colluded to keep each other from competing for talent and driving up wages?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_L...

Kabuki Theatre for the proles.

Likely because sarcasm isn't generally approved ofin HN. Your link is much more useful

Someone filed a lawsuit against a company with deep pockets?

Is it just me or has there been an increase of anti-google piling on after the James Damore thing?

The lawsuit has existed for a couple of years. The news is that accusations of racketeering were recently added. That's highly unusual, and so, newsworthy.

At Comcast, we often joke Google is more evil than us. So I'm not surprised by this.

Can someone ELI5 whats the core tech behind Project Genie or Flux? What I've found are some vague descriptions like "Flux provides seamless data exchange between industry design tools such as Rhino and Revit".

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

Why didn't Attia patent everything already? He'd been working on it for 50 years.

I suspect Google is really just getting into the building design software space but not using Attia's work and Attia thought he was now a part of any effort by Google in building design software.

if that is an internal culture at Google, that may somewhat explain how Levandowski and his people may not personally felt any duty to follow basic morals toward Google. I mean i'm not trying to justify their actions, and personally i find Levandowski's actions smelling pretty bad, i'm just saying that at the system level it seems to be karma at work.

Where are all the people who are always disclaiming to work for Google in every thread about Google? Weird you’re silent on this.

Since you asked, it's 11:36pm and I just got home from drinking wine with a friend. I'm making a pastrami sandwich and might fall asleep soon. Can't speak for others, though. Thanks for your curiosity.

Thankfully, your honor, most of us are smart enough to know to not play unpaid internet forum lawyer.

Are you going to put the disclaimer though in your post at the bottom?

It's somewhat obvious by the content of his post. (I do actually really appreciate when people do disclose their conflicts here. Thanks to those of you who do.)

theDoug is also not wrong, to be fair. There's no situation in which a Google employee who is not a lawyer publicly commenting on a lawsuit against Google works out well for the employee. Anything he says could get his employer in additional trouble, and as an employee, commenting on a legal case is really, really easy grounds for termination, pretty much anywhere. Whether he agrees with the article or not, nothing he says ends up beneficial to him, so it just makes sense to not comment.

I'm just astounded that this needs explaining in the first place. Common sense is not that common.

I work at Google.. I am just a lowly engineer and know nothing about this so I have nothing to say.

I miss the days when I could comment and people would think I was just a person with an opinion.

Not really, this looks like a nuisance suit that hired a publicist. Googlers don't want to comment on lawsuits, it's time consuming and turns into deposition, which are time consuming. Also, most googlers are not anywhere near X, Flux or for that matter outside google proper. So what would they say?

You have to understand: Google gets sued a lot . It is a function of having money. I wish everyone on HN as much success as google, and if you do even a fraction as well I can guarantee you'll be hiring lawyers at a steady clip as your bank balance attracts lawsuits.

Doesn't mean people shouldn't be careful when partnering with Google or anyone, but there's no end of people who think when they have some idea in their head no one else on earth has it and can execute on it.

Nearly 8b people on this planet means that someone, somewhere, is probably working on 'your' idea. Some of them at Google. Some at Apple, some at some yc startup across the room from you. Only answer is to ship better and before they do.

Sorry, I'm only getting paid to shill during office hours.

You didnt get stock options?

Yes please, can we please get @boulos to tell us how GCP can be seemingly used to solve this architects problem here? AWS has clearly failed!

Google is dirty player. I have very little trust on google! They company politics are violating people's rights. They are manipulating and deleting peoples accounts if they political agenda is not google's agenda. Sad sad google. You are just like any other corporation like facebook and twitter.

Freedom of speech?? - you must be joking

Much more information in this article from 2014 http://www.globes.co.il/en/article-architect-eli-attia-sues-...

The problem with “Don’t be evil” is that evil is subjective.

The problem with "Don't be evil" is that it was nothing but an underhanded PR stunt to begin with.

yes they didn't state if was LE NE or CE they where talking about :-)

Also, that it's not legally binding.

Not that they’ve religiously followed it outside of their early years but Google has dropped “don’t be evil” over a year ago.

Straight out of Silicon Valley (the TV show)..

This made me question my understanding of NDAs - are they supposed to restrict usage by the party you told the secret to, or only that they can't share with others?

It depends on the NDA. But one of the important things you should always think about with a contract is your power to enforce it. Even a small lawsuit can be expensive and painful. Are you willing an able to go the distance against the defendant? If not, the language of the contract doesn't matter.

Depends on how good your lawyer is. There's no cookie-cutter NDA from Party A to Party B with fixed roles.

Cookie-cutter NDAs are nearly always very one-sided. Some of the NDAs our company signs with other companies take weeks of lawyers bickering about things that to the uninitiated seem like useless bullshit. But the fact that those things are there in the initial version, and that the lawyers of the other company start out by saying there's no way they will be removed, and then after weeks of bickering agree to the changes should tell you something.

That’s pretty much unequivocally evil, right? Seriously though, if this guy has a real case, Google is going to have a truly miserable time in court.

It depends. The article suggests the plaintiff may not have properly protected his intellectual property ahead of time. It may be very hard to get a court to side against Google if what Google did was technically legal.

Evil and illegal are two different things, and sadly, they quite often do not align.

IANAL, but: Is that the reason behind the racketeering charge?

They've developed a method of systematic theft of IP, which, though technically legal as an isolated incident, shows malicious intent when strung together.

Is that enough to satisfy the charge, or are they still protected?

If the facts bear out, even if what Google allegedly did was legal, it's going to be a terrible thing for Google. No one with any interesting tech will ever want to share info ever again.

This isn't about the single case of the guy getting legally taken away his rights.

The accusation is that Google has a routine set up for doing this, therefore is very much knowingly taking away people's rights against their will.

OK - so what is the take away for startups? It is common that investors don't want to sign NDAs. And it is mostly OK, because in most cases the investor does only investing and he cannot use the ideas on his own, so his best bet is to make a deal with the startup, but if your potential investor is a big corpo - then you need a lot more careful.

Sounds un-googley.


Larry and Sergey must have watched too much Shark Tank... what buffonary if the evidence stands scrutiny

I call this bullshit.

> "Project Genie to educate Google about his proprietary ideas and techniques so they could develop a working proof of concept of his Engineered Architecture technology"

Parametric design and integration into AEC is industry standard since the 80-ies, and a long-time goal of virtually all design software manufacturers. Everybody had a take on this moonshot, and eventually it will get there.

It started with Christopher Alexanders "Design Patterns", when he won a city planning competition for the rebuilding of a destroyed Lima, Peru by offering simple recursive design patterns and not a grand master plan. In the following decades this was being incooperated into various design tools. In the 90ies I based a university course on that ("Computer Assistet Planning"), and there were several others also worldwide. City planning is obviously easiest, as there are almost no physics involved, AEC also easy but problematic because the heterogeneous SW used (needing API's, needing a strong partner), and construction being the hardest (Think of AutoCAD vs Revit). Allia thought of the Neufert standards as design patterns. Good goal, but by far not proprietary and revolutionary. Most of us working on that had far more than Allia.

Going to Google with this plan is also extremely naive. There's only AutoDESK to go to with such a project.

An earlier overview is that article https://www.theverge.com/2015/2/17/8048779/google-x-eli-atti... A current take on city planning is the City Engine: http://www.esri.com/software/cityengine/free-trial

They were not "recursive", as I recall. Care to share a few patterns?

Here is a newer book about such patterns: http://buildz.blogspot.de/2010/12/parametric-design-patterns...

Recursive pattern expansion is the most powerful. Think of Lindenmayer L-Systems to generate plants or fractal image compression. Graphical pattern matching would be a breakthrough way to simplify usage if such a tool. This was studied in the late 80ies.

Well, that was patronizing. (I was doing L-system based design in '91 in Arch school. :)

The question to you sir was: which patterns in Alexander's book are "recursive".

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