Flight Planning Patent Being Enforced


#1

FlightPrep, an Oregon company that received a patent for online flight planning, has apparently started charging royalty fees to other services doing the same thing and the result may be that some of the most popular services will shut down rather than pay the fees or try to fight them. At least one online chart and planning service, SkyVectors, has decided to eat the unspecified costs and continue business as usual, with a note on its charts referencing a licensing agreement with FlightPrep. Other providers are reportedly in the process of being contacted by FlightPrep. The patent appears to cover the basic functions of every online flight planner we’ve come across and FlightPrep’s apparent willingness to enforce it raises inevitable questions about their future availability and cost. After-hours calls and e-mails to FlightPrep were not immediately returned but we hope to talk to them today.

When the patent was announced last January, FlightPrep declined to directly discuss whether it planned to enforce the patent and how. It began the patent process in 2001 and received the paperwork Dec. 29, 2009. Company President John Bouyea told AVweb at the time that it was mulling its options. “FlightPrep has not evaluated those issues at this time,” Bouyea told AVweb. “The patent may be interesting reading for other providers and the aviation industry as a whole.” FlightPrep has an online flight planner and charges a yearly subscription fee of $149.95.

avweb.com/avwebflash/news/Fl … 765-1.html

Thoughts?

What, if any, effect will this have on the flight planning from FlightAware?


#2

I’m not following this.
If company A has a way of doing flight plans online using a system they developed they still have to pay royalties to Flightprep? Or am I missing something here?


#3

Yes, that’s the intent, to charge any online flight planning provider a royalty, you’re not missing anything.

How they ever received a patent for online flight planning in the face of prior art is beyond me.


#4

Looks like it, or get a C&D note sent to them before being sued for patent infringement.

But that would also mean that they’d have to pursue Airnav, RunwayFinder, and even FAA, for they are also developing or have developed an online system for filing flight plans. I don’t see how the USPTO missed this one.

This is very concerning.

BL.


#5

I only skimmed through the patent, but it seems to apply to the algorithms peculiar to their software product. If some other package constructs displays etc. in a different fashion ISTM there is no infringement.

The stand-alone client-based (downloaded) applications are specifically not covered.

On principle I disagree with patenting software. Faced with a logic problem there are only so many ways to solve it and it’s inevitable that more than one developer or team will arrive at the same or a very similar solution. The software license fee has been around for decades but unless you have a patent (and/or an array of lawyers) it’s difficult to enforce. That’s all I see this being.

Good luck suing the FAA for patent infringement :stuck_out_tongue:


#6

This is where patent law confuses me.

If they filed for this back in 2001… at that time only 4 main places outside of the FAA had anything chart related: Airnav, EchoPlate, MyAirplane, and fltplan. All of them at the time only had published the same NACO charts that the FAA does.

So since then, the others have popped up: Skyvector, RunwayFinder, and FA. Each one has their own system that they developed to file flight plans online, and none of them are based on a thick client. I also would want to say that the earliest for any of them would have been FA (in 2005). so the question to ask is… does an awarded patent cover everything from the date the patent was issued and going forward, or does it cover everything going forward AND retroactively backward to the date that the patent submission was filed?

If only the former, FlightPrep is in the wrong; if the latter, there may be a problem, and a lot of patent trolls are going to pop out of the woodwork, for this, and other (related and non-related) patents that were issued, and the USPTO really smegged up.

BL.


#7

2005 on the application, but they might have filed and failed prior.


#8

Someone in another forum turned me straight to the USPTO’s own site (why I didn’t look there, I don’t know), where they have this:

uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/do … atpend.htm

The protection afforded by a patent does not start until the actual grant of the patent.

So Prior Art should apply. Because I’m curious, I found the following, which summarizes Title 35, United States Code, Section 102:

tms.org/pubs/journals/jom/ma … -9106.html

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless…

… First, a person is not entitled to a patent if the invention was “known or used by others in this country, or was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country” before the date of invention by the applicant for the patent.

There are two other reasons it would be barred based on prior art in use 12 or more months before the applicant filed for the patent, or was in use outside the US 12 or more months prior to filing for the US patent.

In either case, it would be safe to say that if FA or someone else were to file for a patent for their technology, they would probably be denied… but that also means that FlightPrep can’t ask for royalties or issue C&D letters or file lawsuits based on their patent until the day the patent is awarded. So reading that right, FA should be protected by the same patent law that protects FlightPrep.

BL.


#9

In addition FlightPrep would have to show the FA methodology and algorithm is substantially similar to that patented to constitute an infringement.

Can of worms.


#10

According to Aero-news.net runway finder is calling it quits because of this.

aero-news.net/

I wonder what the chances of public opinion getting a patent overturned are…ok, slim and none. But a bunch of letters to the company vowing to never buy from them might help.


#11

blog.runwayfinder.com/


#12

This gets nasty now. First, from the initial post, I thought that the patent was initially applied for in 2001, NOT 2005. In this case, Prior Art DEFINITELY applies. But what the hell is this ‘divisional patents’ crap that got them to set the date back? If you set a date back for a patent application, there is no way of knowing that setting the date back doesn’t infringe on another patent application! the USPTO really screwed this up. :imp:

I don’t know if FA needs to lawyer up, or what have you, but this is definitely wrong, and is going to get nasty.

Not that it is any of our business, but is this cause for any concern at FAWHQ?

BL.


#13

They are going after the little fish first. I know the first company with some money will fight this and put them out of business. I guarantee you that Jepessen or aopa didn’t get a letter from their lawyers.

This is a bad move on flightprep’s part. Most pilots will start to avoid them.


#14

Doesn’t look like this will affect Jeppesen:

jeppesen.com/personal-soluti … lanner.jsp

Built on the strength of PC-based FliteStar and AOPA Real Time Flight Planner (RTFP), JIFP is a small application that is downloaded to your PC.

Thick client.

Doesn’t the AOPA still have a forum? and if so, has anyone brought this to their attention? I can’t tell if AOPA’s option is a thin or thick client…

And anyone happen to know the number for the patent in question? I’d like to have a read of it… seeing that this is starting to get some attention, a post to some tech news sites may be in order…

EDIT: Found the patent number.

BL.


#15

Extorting them in public now with some sort of temporary reprieve from harassment:

blog.flightprep.com/2010/12/flig … inder.html

Wonder who else they’re going after. Need more press on this.


#16

Confirmation on this from Runwayfinder:

Update 12/12/2010 9:08pm PST

I am still working to get this situation resolved. At this point, it’s uncertain whether the website will keep running or not. My first priority is to get the lawsuit withdrawn. I appreciate all of the support.

I’ll update this post midday on Monday.

Update 12/10/2010 2:30pm PST

A preliminary verbal agreement has been reached. Assuming we can work out the details over the next few days, RunwayFinder will remain online. I appreciate all of the messages of support. Sorry if I’m not able to respond to everybody personally. I’ll update this post as things progress.

I think it is time to get the AOPA, Jeppesen, and others involved, if not at least aware of this. Actually, Pprune is aware of this and they are getting the word out. Apparently, a number of pilots are aware of this and are making their frustrations heard. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some donation site set up for RunwayFinder’s defense…

BL.


#17

Looks like runwayfinder is down now. They claim the “free temporary license” deal was sort of a lie, too. Shocker.

blog.runwayfinder.com/

flightaware.com/squawks/view/1/r … n_Everyone


#18

techdirt.com/articles/201012 … onth.shtml


#19

Definitely good to see that some press, even the technical press, is picking this up. This now makes it even more worthy of the EFF’s attention.

A message will be going to them today, if I have the free time.

BL.


#20

This is kinda like the guy in Australia who patented the wheel back in 2001!