Creating Flight Plans Online? Patented! Small Company Sued Out Of Business For Not Wanting To Pay $3.2 Million Per Month
from the oh-come-on dept
Once they got the patent, they apparently started hitting up all sorts of online flightplan services for licenses -- even ones that appear to have been online predating some of the claims in their patent. Nelson Minar, who knows more than a little bit about software development, does a nice job highlighting that there appears to be a fair bit of prior art to the claims that were actually approved.
While some firms just paid up rather than spend the million dollars plus it would cost to fight this in court, one small operator, RunwayFinder, chose not to do so, and PrepFlight responded by suing RunwayFinder for $3.2 million per month for creating a rather straightforward "draw a flightplan online" app. How this is not "obvious to those skilled in the art" is beyond me (and many other software developers in the space, such as Minar). In response, RunwayFinder has shut down its service. FlightPrep, sensing some seriously bad PR among people who actually use its software scrambled to offer RunwayFinder a free license... but only until an agreement is worked out or the lawsuit concludes. RunwayFinder's creator notes that since FlightPrep won't drop the lawsuit, he doesn't feel it's right to accept the license, which certainly makes sense.
FlightPrep's open letter about the patent to the community is pretty unintentionally funny:
We realized that it is impossible for us, and for that matter, any business, to develop the proprietary technology to provide useful products and services, while at the same time giving it away and remain a viable business. Thus, we filled for a patent in 2001 with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).I'm really trying to figure out what one has to do with the other. The first sentence has no connection to the second sentence. You can absolutely develop a proprietary technology to provide useful products and services and build a viable business without filing for a patent. Hell, I've done it. I'm also not sure what 'giving it away for free" has to do with anything either. Pricing decisions are separate from pretty much everything else in both of those sentences.
It is not our intent to create a monopoly, put others out of business, or prevent others from participating in the aviation community.Well, you failed on all three counts then. A patent is a monopoly (that's what they were originally called), so pretending otherwise is pretty disingenuous. And it looks like RunwayFinder has been put out of business and are prevented from participating in the aviation community.
Just the fact that there are so many players competing in this space seems to show pretty clearly that (a) the concept was the natural progression in the space, and thus "obvious" and not patentable (b) that the market does not and did not need patents to develop. About the only thing the patent appears to be doing is hindering innovation, either by making a bunch of companies feel the need to pay up to avoid a lawsuit or shut down to avoid the lawsuit. That's not innovation. That's blackmail.