TAWS suit may be settled out of court

 - May 8, 2008, 7:47 AM

Honeywell’s legal dispute with ACSS over EGPWS patents may be on its way to a private arbitrator instead of a courtroom, if the sides can agree on terms.

John Donofrio, vice president and general counsel for Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix, said discussions with ACSS and Thales, a 30-percent stake holder in ACSS, about moving the lawsuit into arbitration are under way, although he stressed no final decision has yet been reached. “We discussed it with ACSS, they’re interested in doing it, and we’re going to try to accommodate that if we can,” he said.

Honeywell filed a lawsuit against ACSS (Aviation Communication and Surveillance Systems) on August 6 alleging infringement of its EGPWS patents. At issue are features found in Thales’ ground collision avoidance system (GCAS), a key part of a new product from ACSS called T2CAS that combines TCAS with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS).

GCAS was originally developed by Dassault Electronique as the terrain-following system in Mirage fighters, and later purchased by Thales. ACSS (which makes the TCAS 2000 product that Honeywell divested when it merged with AlliedSignal) was formed by Thales and L-3 Communications in 2000.

Thales and Honeywell have a confidential written agreement, reached in a separate unrelated patent lawsuit dealing with TCAS, which stipulates that any business disputes arising between the two companies would be settled privately.

When Honeywell filed its lawsuit against ACSS, Thales began planning for potential legal reprisals. In a letter to Honeywell in October, Thales warned that unless it stopped infringing GCAS patents the French company planned to file lawsuits of its own in Europe and the U.S. Thales claims EGPWS violates 20 patents related to GCAS, while Honeywell alleges GCAS violates five of its patents.

Publicly, Honeywell was quick to dismiss Thales’ threats, saying through a spokesman that the charges were “clearly retaliatory” and designed to “detract from the merits of the case.” Asked if the earlier agreement between Honeywell and Thales was related to the latest move toward arbitration, Donofrio said the two had nothing to do with each other.

“All we want is the outcome of this adjudicated as quickly as possible,” said Donofrio. “We’re confident that we’re right, and we’re going to move forward as quickly as we can.”

Spokespeople for ACSS declined to comment for this article.

Honeywell has also filed a lawsuit against Goodrich, Universal Avionics and Sandel, the other three makers of TAWS avionics. A trial date in that case has been set for next October.