Patent lawsuit troubles flight planners

 - December 29, 2010, 5:51 AM

Online flight-planning ­provider RunwayFinder shut down on December 13 in the wake of a patent lawsuit filed by Aurora, Ore.-based FlightPrep. The patent, which was approved in December 2009 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, applies to graphical route overlays on navigational charts via a Web page and using a remote (read Web server-based) chart database.

At face value, the patent appears to apply to nearly every online flight planner. FlightPrep would not answer AIN’s query about which companies might be violating its patent, but it is known that, at minimum, SkyVector, RunwayFinder, AOPA/Jeppesen and Flight Plan have been contacted.

SkyVector has since secured a license with FlightPrep; RunwayFinder decided to shut down after FlightPrep’s lawyers said it would seek $3.2 million a month in lost damages; and in a blog post AOPA and partner Jeppesen said that since their AOPA Internet Flight Planner does not infringe on the ­patent they had “declined to meet with FlightPrep.” Flight Plan (FltPlan.com) also said it is not affected by FlightPrep’s patent. “FlightPrep’s patent does not apply, nor is it relevant to the FltPlan.com Web site,” stated FltPlan.com president Ken Wilson. “Since FltPlan.com does not use FlightPrep’s patented technology, we have not been, nor will we be in negotiations with FlightPrep.”

RunwayFinder founder Dave Parsons claims that the patent was only narrowly approved and he is trying to persuade the ­patent examiner to nullify it. Neither FlightPrep nor its lawyer would directly answer any questions submitted by AIN