SmartSky Networks, which is hoping to launch its air-to-ground (ATG) network service next year, prevailed in a patent challenge brought on by aviation connectivity specialist Gogo. Gogo filed the challenge before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) against a patent that SmartSky said covers some of its most essential features of its ATG network, including beamforming and seamless cell tower handoffs.
USPTO declined to review the patent, saying Gogo “has not demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of...demonstrating that at least one challenged claim” among the 20 claims against the patent would prevail. In reaction to the USPTO decision, SmartSky Chairman and CEO Haynes Griffin said, “We continue to believe [Gogo] will have great difficulty commercializing their future 5G network without infringing on SmartSky’s expansive intellectual property portfolio.” He further said the fact that Gogo challenged the patent “clearly indicates that our IP does in fact matter.”
Gogo responded that it disagreed with the decision, but Sergio Aguirre, president of Gogo Business Aviation, stressed, “neither the PTO’s decision nor SmartSky’s patent portfolio in any way impairs our ability to continue to successfully expand, to launch Gogo 5G, or to enhance our position in the business aviation market.”
Aguirre also disputed the contention about SmartSky patent infringement. “To be clear, Gogo reiterates our strong belief that we are not infringing any valid patent held by SmartSky” and noted Gogo has systems flying aboard 5,500 business jets.
The decision helps SmartSky clear a legal hurdle as it works with a new equipment vendor with the hopes of deploying its network in 2021. The network has been beset with a series of delays, and originally had been planned to launch in 2016. But SmartSky, which is involved in a separate legal case involving one of its former equipment vendors, recently raised another $40 million in equity funding and $10 million in debt to help it continue its efforts to launch the service.
However, SmartSky also is prepared for further challenges. “We understand that the importance of our portfolio may dictate further challenges, and we remain poised to defend both the portfolio and the intellectual property it protects,” said SmartSky president Ryan Stone. “We are an innovation-driven company and have developed key enabling technologies to transform connectivity in aviation. The USPTO ruling rightfully affirms the intellectual property protection SmartSky has earned on just one of the many patents we’ve developed critical to advancing inflight connectivity.”