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SoftBank Corp. (“SoftBank”) has recently reported that it has acquired approximately 200 patents, which includes granted and pending patents, for High Altitude Platform Stations (“HAPS”) from Alphabet Inc.’s Loon LLC. This happened after Alphabet Inc, Loon’s parent company decided to close down its stratospheric communications initiative, Loon. Loon is a nine-year-old project and a two-and-a-half-year-old spin-off firm that provides internet from floating balloons.
SoftBank set up HAPSMobile in 2017 and is developing a solar-powered fixed-wing HAPS platform to offer connectivity services. The company has done five successful test flights of a drone and plans to begin commercial operations in one to two years. Loon and HAPSMobile also founded the HAPS Alliance in 2020, a group of telecommunications, aerospace, and mobile phone companies interested in promoting the use of pseudo-satellites. Telecommunications pseudo-satellites are still a novel concept and have yet to be introduced into the market. In 2020, Loon and HAPSMobile demonstrated a developed Long-Term Evolution (LTE) broadband equipment transmitting from HAPSMobile’s Sunglider UAV which has a wingspan of 80m (262ft) and is intended to fly at about 65,000ft (stratosphere) and stays aloft for several months.
The patents are related to network technologies, services, operations, and aircraft for HAPS. SoftBank said it and HAPSMobile will collectively own around 500 HAPS-related patents, including patents pending, once the deal is completed. Further, they will utilize the expanded patent portfolio to accelerate preparations for commercial HAPS services, as well as promote standardization and interoperability in the HAPS industry.
Furthermore, Alphabet/ Loon, in a separate statement issued on Sep 30, 2021, said they are making Loon’s stratospheric wind and weather measurements as well as electrical measurements collected by “Stormtrooper” (a sensor developed to detect electrical measurements from thunderstorms) publicly available. They are also making a non-assertion pledge for the free use of 270 patents and applications related to launching, navigation, fleet management, and more to support further work in the field. This would also include The Loon Library — an archive of Loon’s technical, operational, and scientific insights, technical and operational processes. The Loon Library provides a glimpse at some of the concepts and prototypes that were in development when Loon wound down — like stratospheric airships and an aviation traffic management system. By making this work publicly available Alphabet/ Loon hopes to support ongoing advances in high altitude platforms and encourage others in the HAPS ecosystem to explore possibilities.