Patent Causing Turbulence at Online Flight Planners

 - December 16, 2010, 10:47 AM

Online flight-planning provider RunwayFinder shut down on Monday in the wake of a patent lawsuit filed by Aurora, Ore.-based FlightPrep. In short, the patent, which was approved last December 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 and AOPA/Jeppesen have been contacted. SkyVector has 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 their AOPA Internet Flight Planner does not infringe on the patent and as such has “declined to meet with FlightPrep.” RunwayFinder founder Dave Parsons claims that the patent was only narrowly approved and he is now trying to get it nullified by the patent examiner. Neither FlightPrep nor its lawyer would directly answer any questions submitted by AIN, though the company claimed it wanted to “keep lines of communication open.”