Two Germans came up with a new way to see the world in 1990s Berlin. Their innovation was stolen by a corporate giant and they decided to fight back.
The new German Netflix miniseries, The Billion Dollar Code takes us on a legal journey based on true events. It shows how two Germans, an artist, and a hacker, invented a new way to see the world in 1990s Berlin. But their code is utilized by Google without giving them due credit. The two inventors then reunite after many years to sue Google for patent infringement and be acknowledged as the creators of the algorithm.
The show created by Oliver Ziegenbalg and Robert Thalheim has only four episodes. "The Social Network (film by David Fincher) was told from the perspective of the winner, or the antagonist: Mark Zuckerberg. We tell our story from the perspective of the Winklevoss brothers, the beautiful losers,” Ziegenbalg told Variety of the intention of making The Billion Dollar Code.
The series starts off with prep for the trial that is a few weeks away. American lawyer, Lea Hausiwth (Lavinia Wilson) is with professor Carsten Schlüter (Mark Waschke) and programmer Juri Müller (Misel Maticevic), the plaintiffs in the patent infringement case. The two of them narrate how their project "Terravision" was created and claim that Google has stolen the idea for Google Earth from them.
Carsten is an artist with a wish to bring the world of art and technology together. He comes up with the idea of creating a virtual Earth that will let people go to a location of their choice from a space point of view. He is not great with technology and meets Juri. Juri is a hacker and is part of the secret and notorious Chaos Computer Club. He ends up developing a well-working code for Carsten's idea. The two become passionate about creating a full-fledged mapping software. They get Deutsche Telekom onboard to finance them and develop the software to be presented at an upcoming ITU conference in Kyoto where they manage to impress everyone. But soon their invention is stolen from them.
Carsten and Juri's invention gets a lot of attention and praise. They are then contacted by Brian Anderson, of Silicon Graphics after the duo had used an Onyx workstation designed by his company. They discuss their invention and Juri even goes as far as explaining the algorithm with Brian, someone he had always admired. He even confides in him that he wanted to make this invention available to the public. They return to Germany and set up their company, Art+Com but fail to get the necessary funding for bringing Terravission to life. Meanwhile, they hear that Brian and Google came together and were launching Google Earth.
Juri is shocked that someone he had considered his hero had blatantly stolen his idea. It was not just something inspired by them but looked like a photocopy of their original idea. This narrative culminates in the last episode which is based entirely on the trial.
Juri decides to call Brian and congratulate him on the launch of Google Earth. Brian tries to explain that he had left Silicon Graphics and had been working on video game graphics which had helped him come up with the software for Google Earth. He subtly confesses that he may have used Juri's algorithm. Following this, Juri sends their patent documents to Brian but they refuse to license their algorithm.
Carsten and Juri's lawyer turns out, also worked for the same firm as Google's lawyer. The trial was also held in an American court. All the factors added up against them from the beginning since Google was already a giant by then. But Lea stuck by her clients, however, and did her best to bring out the technicality of the patent infringement. Unfortunately, the non-technical jury fails to understand this and rules in favor of Google. Carsten and Juri lose their legal battle, as is the case when small companies try to stand up to giant corporates. Brian tries to offer them a five million dollar compensation which Carsten and Juri refuse to take. They may have lost the battle, but they decide to regroup and work on bigger and better things back home.