Honeywell and ACSS have agreed to let a private arbitrator resolve their ongoing legal dispute over EGPWS patents. As a result, Honeywell has dismissed its lawsuit against ACSS (filed last August in U.S. District Court in Delaware) which had accused the smaller company of infringing patents first applied in the enhanced version of Honeywell’s GPWS.
ACSS (Aviation Communication & Surveillance Systems), a joint-venture company owned by L-3 Com- munications and Thales, is close to certifying a competitor to EGPWS called T2CAS (see page 62), which combines TCAS with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS). The TAWS portion of the product, known as the ground collision avoidance module, was originally developed by Dassault as the terrain- following system in Mirage fighters and later purchased by Thales.
While the ACSS device uses concepts similar to Honeywell’s EGPWS to help pilots avoid flying into terrain, there are differences in the way the competing systems calculate distances to mountains and provide alerts to the crew. It will now be up to the third-party arbitrator to decide whether T2CAS unfairly uses concepts included in the design of EGPWS. Honeywell and Thales both hold U.S. patents related to their respective TAWS products, but Honeywell has a sizeable market lead, having introduced EGPWS in 1996.
Legal experts predict the arbitration process will take between six months and a year to complete. The agreement is nonbinding, meaning neither side is forced to accept the outcome. Still unclear is the precise reason the companies agreed to enter arbitration rather than allow the case to go to trial. Observers believe the answer may be linked to a prior divestiture agreement related to the spin-off of Honeywell’s TCAS and various other surveillance product lines, which L-3 purchased when Honeywell merged with AlliedSignal in late 1999.
The companies have decided that details of the arbitration process–and the arbiter’s final decision–will be kept confidential, meaning no public statements will be made during or at the conclusion of the negotiations.
Meanwhile, Honeywell’s EGPWS patent-infringement lawsuit against competitors Goodrich, Sandel and Universal Avionics is scheduled to go to trial in October. Honeywell accuses its competitors of illegally using concepts patented during EGPWS development in their own TAWS devices. The FAA is requiring that most turbine-powered airplanes begin carrying TAWS equipment starting in March 2005.