The code that was worth millions or how Google stoked the idea of ​​Google Earth

The code that was worth millions or how Google stoked the idea of ​​Google Earth
The code that was worth millions or how Google stoked the idea of ​​Google Earth

The Netflix series The Code That Was Worth Millions portrays the story of the Berlin company Art + Com, which sued Google for stealing the idea of ​​Google Earth.

“New media since 1988” is the motto of Art + Com, a company that has been on everyone’s lips since Netflix launched a week ago The code that was worth millions, a series that echoes the theft (surprisingly silent) of which this Berlin company was a victim a few years ago by Google.

Founded in 1988 by artists, designers and computer specialists, Art + Com originally saw the light as an association. And those who gathered there came mainly from the University of the Arts and the emblematic Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Berlin.

Art + Com has always moved like a fish in watera at the intersection of art, science, computer development, design, programming, and engineering.

“TerraVision” is the best-known invention ever to come out of the guts of Art + Com. Axel Schmidt, Pavel Mayer, Joachim Sauter and Gerd Grüneis worked on this herculean project until approximately 1995. The objective of «TerraVision» was to develop an algorithm for the spatial representation (down to the smallest detail) of the globe (thus planting the seed of today’s ubiquitous GPS applications). “TerraVision” is actually the algorithm behind Google Earth. Schmidt and Mayer, CCC hackers, were responsible for the architecture and programming of the project, while Sauter was responsible for the interface and Grüneis for the content.

Deutsche Telekom financió “TerraVision” and in 1994 the project was presented with great success at an international fair in Kyoto (Japan).

Since “TerraVision” only ran on Silicon Graphics’ extremely powerful computers, its creators soon left Berlin to travel to Silicon Valley.. But there they ran into the wrong people: Michael T. Jones and Brian McClendon. Jones and McClendon later founded the Keyhole company and through this company the “Earth Viewer” project came to light. With such a succulent product in its portfolio, Keyhole would end up being acquired by Google in 2004. And “Earth Viewer” ended up metamorphosing into Google Earth.

Michael T. Jones and Brian McClendon allegedly stole the idea of ​​”TerraVision” from Art + Com

Although The code that was worth millions the history of Art + Com has been slightly modified, the essence of what is narrated there is real. And Jones and McClendon apparently earned (with spurious intentions) the trust of the Berlin company.

The creators of “TerraVision” explained the architecture of their software to Jones and McClendon in such detail that their US counterparts were able to replicate it.

In the series Schmidt and Mayer merge into a single character (Juri Müller), while Joachim Sauter and Gerd Grüneis are represented in The code that was worth millions como Carsten Schlueter. And the binomial of evil Jones and McClendon is embodied in the series by the character Brian Anderson.

The dispute between Art + Com and Google over the theft of “TerraVision” lasted in real life for almost ten years, from 2006 to 2016. The costs of that bloody legal battle ranged between 600 and 700 million euros. Venture capital investors confident of a satisfactory outcome of the Art + Com lawsuit financed the legal process. But in the end it was Google who prevailed in this David vs. Goliath duel in court.

Even so, and after being defeated in that very tough legal battle, Art + Com went ahead and did not throw in the towel. The company currently employs 90 people, more than double the number when it took Google to court.

At the end of the 90’s Art + Com was a company focused above all and above all on virtual vehicles, but With the turn of the millennium, it turned towards projects with a focus on digital and analog installations and augmented reality.

Joachim Sauter, who played a very relevant role in the development of The code that was worth millions and was Head of Design at Art + Com, unfortunately passed away on July 10, 2021. His adversary in the legal proceedings against Google, Michel T. Jones, had also coincidentally died only six months earlier. And both Sauter and Jones died of cancer.

For his part, Pavel Mayer was managing director between 1995 and 2000 and CTO of Art + Com in the period between 2001 and 2011. The other two creators involved in “TerraVision”, Axel Schmidt and Gerd Grüneis, left Art + Com in the late 90s.

Having been killed in court by Google does not seem to have eaten away because of the grudge against Art + Com, whose employees are, in fact, using the Internet giant’s search engine. In addition, the Netflix series has finally put on the map a company that, despite its immeasurable achievements, hardly anyone knew in the “techie” scene.

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