Netflix’s ‘The Billion Dollar Code’ Dramatizes the Legal Battle Over Google Earth

Who won the Terravision vs. Google Earth lawsuit? Learn about the ART+COM infringement suit that inspired Netflix’s ‘The Billion Dollar Code.’

Dan Clarendon - Author

Oct. 6 2021, Published 8:47 a.m. ET

A scene from The Billion Dollar Code
Source: Netflix

The new Netflix miniseries The Billion Dollar Code “tells the incredible story of two German computer pioneers who go to court for their rights as inventors of the Google Earth algorithm in a battle against a seemingly invincible opponent,” according to its synopsis. The show dramatizes the lawsuit that the Berlin company ART+COM filed against Google in 2014, when it claimed Google Earth infringed on its Terravision creation. So, who won in the Google Earth vs. Terravision lawsuit?

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Spoiler alert: It was that “seemingly invincible opponent.” "The Social Network was told from the perspective of the winner, or the antagonist: Mark Zuckerberg,” Oliver Ziegenbalg, co-creator of The Billion Dollar Code, tells Variety. “We tell our story from the perspective of the Winklevoss brothers, the beautiful losers.”

ART+COM sued Google in 2014, claiming Google Earth infringed on its patent

the billion dollar code
Source: Netflix

ART+COM announced its suit in 2014, alleging 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."

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Scott Partridge, the company’s lead counsel for the lawsuit, said that the 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.”

The patent was invalidated in an appeals court in 2017 provided an update on the case, Art+Com Innovation Pool GmbH v. Google LLC, in Oct. 2017: The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit had entered a non-precedential decision that affirmed a lower court’s invalidation of the patent in question. That decision came nearly a year-and-a-half after a Delaware jury found that ART+COM hadn’t proven infringement on Google’s part.

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The legal drama “came back to the surface” with ‘The Billion Dollar Code’

As the creatives behind The Billion Dollar Code, Ziegenbalg and co-creator Robert Thalheim are shining the spotlight on the infringement suit, with actors Leonard Scheicher and Marius Ahrendt playing an artist and a hacker who team up on the Terravision technology. Thalheim says that the miniseries represents a “new beginning” for the real-life people behind the Terravision technology—including Axel Schmidt, Pavel Mayer, and Gerd Grueneis.

“They didn’t come to us, saying: ‘Please tell our story,’” Thalheim told Variety. “I just talked to Axel yesterday, and he said that after the trial, where they fought to be finally recognized as entrepreneurs, he took all these papers back to the basement, saying: ‘I am done. I never want to think about it again.’ When we came to interview them, it all came back to the surface. … I think it’s a new beginning. They are not a part of our story, but we are a part of their story now.”


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