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Architect Sues Google For Allegedly Stealing Eco-Friendly Building Technology

Architect Eli Attia claims his technology was used to form the Google X startup Flux, and he was pushed out of the process.

Architect Sues Google For Allegedly Stealing Eco-Friendly Building Technology
[Top photo: Flickr user Dan DeLuca]

An architect is suing Google for allegedly stealing his idea for a building technology that makes the design and construction of tall buildings cheaper and more efficient.

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Israeli-born architect Eli Attia, along with technology company Max Sound Corp., has brought a lawsuit against the Silicon Valley titan over Flux, a Google X-developed startup launched earlier this year that makes software for designing environmentally friendly buildings cheaply and quickly.

“Flux said its system will use data and algorithms to manage trade-offs between upfront construction costs, operating expenses over the life of the buildings, the experience of the occupants and the impact on the environment,” the Wall Street Journal wrote of the company in May, when it announced it had raised $8 million in funding.

However, Attia, who worked with legendary architect Philip Johnson and has designed a number of skyscrapers, says that Google brought him in to share his idea for revolutionizing the construction industry by building projects faster using fewer resources. According to his lawsuit, Google hired Attia for five months to work with software engineers on the project, eventually called Genie, with Attia’s knowledge of the building industry as an integral component of the endeavor. However, the suit claims Attia was later told that the Genie project would be cancelled. Members of the Genie project would later go on to form Flux, a company based on the same idea as Genie, sans Attia.

According to Israeli newspaper Globes:

In the summer of 2010, Attia was invited by Google to present the invention before the company’s top management at corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California, in Silicon Valley. The meeting was attended by [Google co-founder Larry] Page. At that time, Google had no know-how on construction. At the end of the presentation, Attia claims, Page spoke at length with him about buildings and construction, a field that he was not familiar with. Following the meeting, Attia was asked by senior executives at Google, to respond to a series of questions.

Several weeks later, Page and Brin approved the development program as part of Google X, Google’s secret department, which handles new developments that are not part of the company’s core business. Attia and Google signed nondisclosure and employment agreements making it clear that the IP and know-how were Attia’s. It was agreed that in the event that the technology was proven to be viable and that EA would develop a prototype, then a partnership agreement would be signed between Google and Attia to apply the technology in the global real estate market.

The lawsuit alleges that “Despite Google’s own motto of ‘Don’t be evil,’ the Defendants remorselessly discarded Mr. Attia, misappropriated his proprietary information and know-how, and proceeded to develop and exploit Mr. Attia’s idea’s and know-how for their own benefit, picking for themselves the fruit of Mr. Attia’s life work at his expense.” It goes on to accuse Google of wasting three years working with Attia–time he could have spent pursuing the invention on his own.

This is not the first time Attia has taken someone to court for stealing his ideas. In the ’90s, Attia filed suit against another architecture firm for allegedly copying his drawings from a design competition for a New York hospital renovation. Attia’s firm lost the competition, but claimed the eventual schematic design chosen copied his work. The lawsuit was dismissed, as was an appeal.

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Co.Design has reached out to Flux and Google for comment and will update the story accordingly.

[h/t: Globes]

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.

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