What Now, FlightPrep?

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Several times I've asked FlightPrep what their goal was with the patent they received on online flight planning. The first time was Jan. 21, 2010 right after they announced the patent and here's the email exchange with then-CEO John Bouyea.

"What does this mean for all the other online flight planners out there John?"

The answer: "We are excited to receive this patent and we appreciate your question. The patent may be interesting reading for other providers and the aviation industry as a whole."

Well, thanks for nothing. We could have cleared up quite a bit right then and there. However, the truth is that despite all the publicity and rancorous debate (most of it condemnation) about FlightPrep's enforcement of the patent, we still don't know any more about its plans than we did when I asked that question almost a year ago. Cloaked by lawyers and swaddled in vacuous platitudes that infuriate rather than inform the pilots who might have considered becoming their customers up to about 10 days ago, FlightPrep continues to hold its cards close to its chest.

While that was of looming concern in the middle of December, now, as New Year's Eve approaches, it's become merely irritating and may soon be irrelevant to most of us. The truth is that online flight planning may not be the only game in town and pilots will continue to draw lines on maps, virtually or otherwise, without the need for FlightPrep's permission.

During its eight months of planning and deliberation on how to proceed with exploiting the patent (the first letters inviting secret discussions with alleged patent infringers went out at the end of August), FlightPrep almost certainly considered the possibility that people might not like what they were doing. That there's been no evidence of that sentiment in its actions since August is what leads us to the current state of affairs.

According to patent attorney Lionel Lavenue, whom we interviewed for a very illuminating podcast, FlightPrep could very well defend challenges to this patent and it's also applied to broaden the reach of the current patent.

So far, the only one testing the legal waters is Dave Parsons, the owner of RunwayFinder and it's not by choice. FlightPrep is suing him, even though he voluntarily shut down his popular Web site, thus removing any future threat to FlightPrep. The continued belligerence by FlightPrep has rubbed the aviation community the wrong way and that's where FlightPrep has erred seriously in all of its carefully laid plans.

Patent law is an inherently arcane (and absolutely necessary) area of the legal system that is almost entirely the domain of those who practice it. It's lawyers against lawyers agonizing over the definition of words, terms and processes. Seldom does it attract the notice of the end users of the product because it usually gets all settled in the background, often before products even hit market.

In this case, however, the end users have been provoked and they're turning out in significant numbers to fight a perceived injustice. In practical terms, it matters little whether there is the legal justification for FlightPrep's position that Lavenue has described for us. The issue has energized a close-knit and intelligent community of like-minded folks who are rallying to the defense of one of their own.

I doubt FlightPrep ever thought there would be petition Web sites against them or forums filled with comments swearing never to buy their products when they huddled with their lawyers on how to proceed with this patent.

The question now is what to do about it. In court, FlightPrep is not just fighting Dave Parsons. It's fighting a rapidly growing constituency of former customers and never-to-be-potential customers who are donating money and volunteering their time researching ways to keep FlightPrep from prevailing in this suit.

While, according to Lavenue, the normal course in patent enforcement is to tackle the perceived weak players first to test the waters, as we all know, the normal course doesn't always apply to the aviation business, which is driven more by passion than business sense at times. The truth is, FlightPrep likely would have been better off to take on AOPA and Jeppesen. The aviation community might have seen some value in that. It definitely does not see the wisdom of attacking a guy working from his house on Mercer Island, WA who put his talents to work coming up with a widget for his fellow pilots and didn't want to go broke providing it.

If I may be so bold as to offer a little advice, it's time to ratchet this back a full turn. Let's go back to the fact that there is a patent and discuss what it means. Stop with the non-disclosure agreements and the posturing, which we're told is normal for this sort of thing, but which isn't helping. Regardless of how carefully formulated your business plan is, accept the fact that it ain't working.

And for God's sake cancel the lawsuit against RunwayFinder. You've turned a well-respected man and his family's (not a company, a family) life upside down for what may be just a few misdirected emails, in my judgement. Stop it. Stop it now as a sign of good faith to a community of which you claim to be a part and that you absolutely need to succeed.

Then give the lawyers some time off and lay it all out for us-as part of us. You have our attention, but probably not for long.

Comments (66)

It's sad how often companies don't take the time to value the way their actions will alter the way their organization will be perceived. The specifics of the patent law, and the value of any license FlightPrep may have gotten, will now be dwarfed by the potential revenue they will never realize based on their poor PR handling of these suits.

Maybe they knew that their product was doomed, and they feel they have nothing to lose by cannibalizing future revenues through these lawsuits. But somehow I doubt it.

In any case they should probably fire their lawyers and find a firm that better understands this corner of managing a legal campaign against popular free products which may infringe on their patents.

Posted by: Brad Koehn | December 27, 2010 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Welcome to the world of software patents. This kind of crap goes on all the time. Just wait till someone decides to come after AvWeb for their use of the 'Submit Comment' button. They'll decide you have too much money, pick a judge that knows nothing about the technology in question, sue you $5,000 for every time the button was pressed, and there's not a thing you can do to stop them.

Posted by: Corey Phelps | December 27, 2010 12:19 PM    Report this comment

I am confident that FlightPrep will have a different attitude in a few months when they have NO MORE BUSINESS because they made everyone mad! The aviation community must take a stand against this company and boycott their products. Maybe only then will they get the hint...

Posted by: Chris Barnes | December 27, 2010 1:01 PM    Report this comment

Agreed 100%, Paul, especially the part about dropping the law suit. What are the thinking? Or, are they thinking?

Posted by: Louis Betti | December 27, 2010 1:21 PM    Report this comment

Russ, your commentary hit the mark dead on. FlightPrep has lost the confidence of the entire aviation community and their only hope at this point is to take your advice. Well said!

Posted by: Martin Santic | December 27, 2010 4:34 PM    Report this comment

Great writeup. I don't think these people are stupid - there has to be more to the story. For example, it has to be about extension of the patent to some other area other than aviation or to the international arena (read China where the next couple of decades may see some huge growth). One would think if it's confined just to GA in the USA, there's not not enough money on the table to justify their actions.

Otherwise, it just makes no sense except to be a great bad example.

Posted by: Dan Baier | December 27, 2010 6:15 PM    Report this comment

Well said, Russ. Your analysis is spot on and you've hit on what has struck me most about this whole debacle. In all their comments, responses, and blogs, FlightPrep seems to be the master of the non-answer. Most glaring is their oft-repeated claim that it's not about the money and that the suits (filed or threatened) are not for "millions" as reported in some places. At the same time they refuse to state what compensation they seek (laughingly citing legal requirements for not doing so), while their RunwayFinder lawsuit claims "trebled" damages plus fees and costs. This patent should never have been granted - it's further proof that the Patent Office is stuck in the 20th, if not 19th century. And to think that I was seriously considering FlightPrep before all this broke. Now, you can add me to the list of those that say no way, no how - even IF they withdraw their deplorable antics.

Posted by: Mauro Savoldelli | December 27, 2010 10:15 PM    Report this comment

Add me to the ever-growing list of former customers: http://www.milehighflyers.com/milehighflyers/2010/12/21/special-blog-post-regarding-flightprep-patent-fiasco.html

Posted by: Nathan Duehr | December 28, 2010 12:12 AM    Report this comment

Someone let me know if I am wrong, but I believe the FAA pays DUAT and DUATS basedon the number of uses. And DUATS is linked to FlightPrep while DUAT has recently linked itself with Voyager. If I am right, then the quick way to send a message to FlightPrep is to switch from DUATS to DUAT. Not buying FlightPrep might takes many months to show up on the bottom line. Switching from DUATS to DUAT will show up immediately.

Posted by: Carl Hopkins | December 28, 2010 12:22 PM    Report this comment

Make your voice heard on this! Sign the petition and leave your comments at http://boycottflightprep.com/

Posted by: Craig Morton | December 28, 2010 12:52 PM    Report this comment

I beleive the dictionary calls this a "pyrrhic victory".

Posted by: Phil Derosier | December 28, 2010 10:27 PM    Report this comment

All of us who care about aviation need to join ranks to bury FlightPrep once and forever. This needs to be an example to others in our small industry-community that parasitic greed will not be tolerated. I would to see other companies with competitive software offer free packages to existing FlightPrep customers (I am not one). I have donated to Mr Parson's legal fund. I will never purchase anything from FlightPrep.

Can someone confirm Nathan Duehr's analysis on the value of using DUAT instead of DUATS? - the value being it harms FlightPrep? If not using DUATS harms FlightPrep, I will never use it again.

I am spitting mad at FlightPrep. Aside from the analysis of what they are trying to do and how they are going about it, FlightPrep is trying to make money off of ALL OF US by using their blood sucking attorneys rather than providing a service or any single thing of value in return.

Please donate to Mr Parson's defense fund.

Posted by: Robert Yeager | December 28, 2010 11:12 PM    Report this comment

Corey Phelps is right, this is SOP for software. Sorry to say, but the attorneys are clearly running this show. You might be irritated, but patents are expensive and FlightPrep clearly wants to exploit their advantage (otherwise, why file for a patent?).

Intellectual property law is in dire need of a review, but I doubt it will ever come. In the meanwhile, if you care then donate to the defense fund.

Oh, and if you believe that innovation is what drives the US economy then write your legislator and mention this issue. They need to know that big companies do not own everything.

Posted by: Guy Cole | December 29, 2010 1:26 AM    Report this comment

I'm a former FlightPrep paying customer. I'm also potentially on the wrong end of another software patent case, this one from IBM. Needless to say, FlightPrep is never getting another dime from me. I downloaded Voyager as much as a statement as anything else (I'm not currently an active pilot due to the economy).

Posted by: Jay Maynard | December 29, 2010 5:36 AM    Report this comment

I was a regular user of Navmonster.com and appreciated its free access use to the community and how it made flight planning practical and immediate. This move by FlightPrep not only infuriates me but makes me a non-user of anything FlightPrep related!

Posted by: George Samara | December 29, 2010 6:02 AM    Report this comment

I guess I am the only one that supports R&D here? Remind me never to spend months or years "building a better mouse trap"

So let me understand this. Someone has an idea, they work on it then obtain a patent, then everyone thinks they should allows others to just use the idea, for free?

This really sends a clear message to those that would spend time and money working on new ideas.

Don't bother.

Posted by: Gary Bradshaw | December 29, 2010 6:09 AM    Report this comment

Enforcing a patent is one thing. Not finding a way to work with Runway Finder or NavMonster in a way that makes everyone a little money is, well, plain stupid. Instead of trying to come to a win-win situation Flight Prep is in a we win, you lose and we will gleefully destroy you mode.

To top it off they running a bad PR campaign that tarnishes their name in the community they are trying to sell their product to.

The only real winner here is the leech attorney for Flight Prep.

Posted by: Keith Langdon | December 29, 2010 7:07 AM    Report this comment

Flightprep has become as welcome as syphilis and with the screwing they are handing out, beware, it may happen. Lookout Flightprep, we will most definitely NOT respect you in the morning.

Posted by: Cliff Chambliss | December 29, 2010 7:48 AM    Report this comment

For what it's worth, Roger Stenbock of FlightPrep is the same Stenbock at Stenbock Communications, maker of the ASA Virtual Test Prep videos. We could let ASA know of our disapproval by boycotting that line of products.

Posted by: Nicholas Stolley | December 29, 2010 7:57 AM    Report this comment

FlightPrep needs to study the Wright Brothers. For all the honor we give them now, in reality they nearly destroyed the aviation world they created by bitterly and blindly trying to enforce a poorly defined patent. In doing so, they certainly lost millions in income and most of their friends. I am all for paying for someone's hard work. As pilots we are certainly accustomed to spending money to pursue our dreams, but patenting the ability to draw a line on a map (which they did not create) is ridiculous. If their tools are better, money will come. If they are not, they should pack it in and not cry foul over perceived infringement. Will they next go after TomTom?

Posted by: Hunter Yarbrough | December 29, 2010 8:53 AM    Report this comment

Congratulations FlightPrep on becoming one of the most hated companies in aviation nearly overnight! This took careful planning and complete disregard for all users of flight planning software. Quite the stunning accomplishment, you must be so proud.

Posted by: Ric Lee | December 29, 2010 9:21 AM    Report this comment

Gary, the problem is that only a tiny fraction of software patents actually cover anything truly novel. The USPTO is handing out patents left and right to what should be clearly non-patentable inventions, just to make their own numbers look good.

Software patents are also the greatest threat to the freedom of people to write software imaginable. It's impossible for a programmer to know whether he's going to trip over someone else's patent.

Software patents also stifle innovation in the software world. It's just as likely that someone who does come up with a truly innovative idea will have to defend it from a frivolous lawsuit from someone who has no intention of doing anything with their patent except sue people who might possibly be cast as infringing, whether they are or not.

On top of that, it's a matter of settled patent law that the only person qualified to have an opinion on whether a patent is being infringed is a patent attorney. A layman who reads a patent and decides that he is not infringing it is liable for treble damages as a willful infringer if a court decides he was wrong.

In short, there's precious little R&D going on here, and FlightPrep is exploiting a broken patent system to extort money out of folks who aren't doing anything wrong. The aviation world is right to protest and refuse to support them any more.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | December 29, 2010 9:58 AM    Report this comment

There are some comments here that assume FlightPreps patent is deserved that they truly innovated the idea. Many, including myself, comments on how FlightPrep is enforcing it.

I am not an attorney, but not stupid either. I really doubt that the idea is their invention. I think they are the first to try to patent it, but that is like seeing other people hose their sidewalk off with water after mowing the grass, and then saying it is your idea and they need to pay you.

Here is what the patent is saying that FlightPrep has "innovated" (paraphrased):

1 - Using the internet (network and client / server computers) to 2 - create a "flight plan" (this term is too vague - there is more to flight planning than drawing a line. They later refer to it as a flight route) 3 - by being able to look at (accessing) one map/chart of many, and linking that map/chart to the adjacent charts. 4 - They specifically detail the direction of data travel - the charts go to your computer (web browser). You make your "flight plan" using the chart data. You send it back to the server. It sends it back to you as a composite flight plan (charts stitched together with a line on them).

I would like to see proof or analysis that Flight Prep was the first to come up with this idea.

Posted by: Robert Yeager | December 29, 2010 10:27 AM    Report this comment

If flightprep have the courage and goodwill to admit their error and withdraw their legal action and publish an official apology they stand to regain some honor. I strongly agree with Russ' comment that they picked the wrong battle - had flightprep gone after one of the big guys, AOPA or Jeppesen I may well be supporting their fight if they were the underdog, but this attack on a small non-profit free service is utter cowardice. I have donated to Dave Parsons legal defense fund and look forward to watching their improperly issued, multiple-rejection patent get picked apart.

Posted by: Peter Sharpe | December 29, 2010 10:58 AM    Report this comment

If someone does not deserve a patent, then it can be fought and revoked.

Posted by: Gary Bradshaw | December 29, 2010 11:04 AM    Report this comment

Attorneys think like attorneys. Roger Stenbock of FlightPrep is an attorney. What more needs to be said?

Posted by: Nelson Swartz | December 29, 2010 11:49 AM    Report this comment

Yep - they can be fought and revoked - how many millions do you have to donate to the cause? Lawyers are NOT cheap!

Posted by: JT McDuffie | December 29, 2010 12:00 PM    Report this comment

If they are right(in my opinion they are not; they are being Right, Mean, and Stupid, all in the same action.

Posted by: Joe Ramotowski | December 29, 2010 12:01 PM    Report this comment

I'd like to suggest that FlightPrep do something to reverse their PR problem, earn some good will, and become the leader in the online flight planning industry: Join the Open Invention Network.

See http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Midmarket/Open-Invention-Network-adds-KDE-Document-Foundation-as-Licensees-444960/?kc=EWKNLLIN12282010STR4

Just a wild idea, perhaps, but something to think about.

Posted by: JT McDuffie | December 29, 2010 12:06 PM    Report this comment

I find it a little unbelievable that there isn't a whole host of prior art in this area. Surely The Intarwebz can uncover something that would easily invalidate the patent. (The USPTO has, of late, been far too quick to issue patents without checking for obvious prior art first, and this would be FAR from the first time that happened.)

cl

Posted by: Chris Lawson | December 29, 2010 12:34 PM    Report this comment

Even if FlightPreps wins in court, they have already lost. The outrage is simply to big. Wolfskin suffered PR disaster after suing DaWanda, even after they detracted their lawsuit. The Internet has changed the way these things work, fortunately.

Posted by: Walter Stuhmer | December 29, 2010 4:43 PM    Report this comment

I understand FlightPrep began their patent application in 2001, I don't see where what they do is appreciably different from what MapQuest has been doing with driving directions in the WWW since 1996. I've arrived at the opinion that the patent offices in most countries have gotten to the point of allowing nearly anything that's applied for, and let the lawyers sort it out from there.

Posted by: Gerry van Dyk | December 29, 2010 5:41 PM    Report this comment

Thinking about this a bit, I realized the reason for the timing for the FlightPrep action. They wanted to wait until after Oshkosh since the next big GA event is Sun and Fun some 7-8 months away. They were awarded the patent in Jan of 2010, but waited until after Oshkosh to begin the scorched earth plan.

I may have to travel to Sun and Fun just to picket their both!

Posted by: Robert Yeager | December 29, 2010 11:47 PM    Report this comment

I sure won't use flightprep now or anytime in the future nor purchase any of their products and even if they wind up, through litigation, being the ONLY flight planner service available, I still won't use them. Compared to some of the other trip planner sites, like the now defunct runwayfinder and navmonster, flightprep is less user friendly, harder and more complicated to use and less comprehensive in the information presented. Maybe this all started because flightprep was jealous about how much better these other sites were at presenting the flight planning information, who knows, but no matter, the damage is done. Flightprep can pretend "innocence," talk all around it and plead their case anyway they want but It all boils down to selfish greed. It's really sad that someone, in this case flightprep, has to spoil it for everyone else and no matter how all this turns out, flightprep's name and now questionable reputation won't soon be forgotten! Way to go guys!!

Posted by: James Dippel | December 30, 2010 6:51 AM    Report this comment

In Canada we had a similar situation about 30 years ago. A lawyer at a well known and well respected firm obtained a patent for a client which essentially said that anyone checking data would be infringing on the patent. A full page story was written in a Montreal newspaper explaining that the owners of the patent only wanted 1% of the billings of every data processing firm. According to the lawyer who contacted us even adding up numbers to obtain a batch total or using a check digit contravened the patent. To the best of my knowledge, few if any firms paid the patent holder. The big firms after looking into the situation dismissed the patent as preposterous. We are told that the lawyer who filed the request for patent was reprimanded by his firm. I am unsure as to whether the patent was ever revoked or only not enforced.

It would seem to me that if the present patent were to be deemed valid, any firm that was the first to produce a data base program, a spreadsheet program, or a search engine could patent the idea. Would Google be allowed to exist?

Posted by: John Kivenko | December 30, 2010 8:06 AM    Report this comment

I'm just cynical enough to think that Flightprep figures they can wait out everyone's short attention span and things will return to normal in a month or two and they will be able to pick off the small websites one by one. They won't make any money off of the lawsuits. They will make it by by eventually being the only game in town. Where is AOPA and all the other alphabet groups we pay money to to represent us? Surely they have a dog in this fight.

Posted by: Ronny Alldredge | December 30, 2010 9:20 AM    Report this comment

I wonder if FlightPrep considered the value of the good will they're losing? Nothing they provide can't be found elsewhere, and count me as yet another who won't be doing business with FlightPrep OR ASA. Maybe the solution is to put them out of business and have someone (AOPA? EAA?) buy the patent at the bankruptcy sale and make it universally available.

I'm a Fltplan.com user. They had a statement on their website about being contacted by FlightPrep. Their position is that they do not infringe the patent and they declined to discuss it with FP. Good for them!

Posted by: Jeff Wustrack | December 30, 2010 9:38 AM    Report this comment

I am a software developer. Protecting our intellectual property is always tantamount. So is making sure we don't violate other patents. The system may not be perfect and there are injustices, but without patents many companies would loose significant assets to"borrowers " of their hard work. It is not easy to make unique applications of software business models. It is not easy to win these types of patents. Keep in mind patents will not be issued if there is prior art. Meaning it has not existed before. So Flightprep won their patent they deserve it. If a lawsuit proves otherwise it will be overturned.

Just because your a guy in a garage is no excuse for treading on the intellectual property of others. Look how seriously the music industry looks at that concept.

This patent will drive more innovation in the long run.

Posted by: Bob Lotter | December 30, 2010 10:25 AM    Report this comment

Bob Lotter, if you think the USPTO has never issued a patent -- especially software patents -- that ignored prior art, you are very mistaken. In a perfect world, maybe, but we clearly don't live in one. Do a search on Slashdot for "software patent" or "prior art", or check out http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Example_software_patents .

I am also a software developer, inasmuch as any random yahoo on the Internet can claim to be, and was a computer geek long before I got into aviation, and I've been seeing this sort of crap happen for the better part of a decade. I'm not saying it *definitely* happened here, but when discussing an idea this obvious, it certainly sounds like it *could* have.

Furthermore, this clearly isn't an issue of "a guy in a garage treading on the intellectual property of others", so feel free to take back that straw man and set him on fire so you won't be tempted to use it again.

cl

Posted by: Chris Lawson | December 30, 2010 10:49 AM    Report this comment

What's all the fuss about?

I recently started flying again after a 20 year lay off.

While happy to simply go flying again, I couldn't resist checking out all the new offerings provided by computers, the web, GPS and flight simulators. Gosh, all the stuff is overwhelming and mostly disappointing. (except for getting news electronically from AV web of course!)

Sitting for hours at the computer trying to figure out flight related products, I feel like the kid who spends too much time playing video games rather than gong outside and building a tree fort.

Could pilots be getting brainwashed into thinking they couldn't survive without computer flight planning, glass GPS panels and automated everything else?

To hell with FlightPrep. Next time you plan a cross country flight, do it the old fashioned way, by number 2 pencil, paper chart, whiz wheel and a call to FSS. One word of caution; When you fly the route, you might have to look outside for way points, use a VOR, do manual calculations or mark up your chart.

Hurry, in case some Web based company patents this remarkable idea.

Posted by: George Dyer | December 30, 2010 2:24 PM    Report this comment

Not having read the patent application, nor could I likely understand it, I wonder if the FlightPrep bullies..er..inventors, their attorneys, the judge, or the patent office were aware of FalconView developed by Georgia Tech in the early 1990s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FalconView. According to the link, an open source (unpatentable) version is to be out soon. Oh, and neither ASA nor FlightPrep will ever see another dime from me. On the other hand, I'm headed next to a donation site for Dave Parsons.

Posted by: Cathy Babis | December 30, 2010 2:34 PM    Report this comment

The best way, in our humble opinion, to aid everybody concerned is to write down your knowledge of and where submittable examples can still be found of prior art in any of the claims in the flightprep patent prior to the year 2000 and submit them to dave@runwayfinder.com and marc@navmonster.com. The patent office will accept a plea for re-evaluation of the patent issueance, but it must include proof of prior art on each dependent claim in addition to the three main claims. Yes, in our humble opinion, all claims are pre-existing prior art, but we need to prove that to a degree of 80 percent sure.

Kp

Posted by: Keith Peshak | December 30, 2010 3:43 PM    Report this comment

They've made an enemy of well with this action and I'll ensure anyone I talk to knows what they've done to that family and to our safety in the process. I understand the need to protect IP, but when it's something as broad as on-line flight planning (like on-line banking in my opinion), that is just ridiculous. Hope to hear of them folding up shop soon!

Posted by: Jim Elswick | December 30, 2010 5:30 PM    Report this comment

There has been more recent activity from the FlightPrep people letting their email list get used by some nutjob who sent spam "defending" FlightPrep. He did a terrible job.

Since there has been so little from FlightPrep, and since their initial contact with the "licensee sites" was always to first try to get a Non-Disclosure Agreement signed I wonder whether there's an NDA between FlightPrep and their law firm. What if the law firm did the patent work against future license fee sharing, but part of the deal is that FlightPrep has to allow the law firm free reign in the fight, and they can't comment about it unless the comments are approved by the law firm?

It's possible that I thought that up because I want to believe the best of people (and the worst of lawyers).

Posted by: Colin Summers | December 30, 2010 8:00 PM    Report this comment

I work in high tech. My company has hundreds of patents. I have 16 myself. But we keep our powder dry and only take action when our business is severly threatened. Clearly FP was *not* severly threatened. So what goes around comes around. I think I'll do a patent search and see if Jeppesen has any.

Posted by: Charlie Thompson | December 30, 2010 9:04 PM    Report this comment

I'm a web software developer and while Bob is technically right, and the FlightPrep attorney is probably technically right, generally in business it is a bad idea to rest on a patent.

Especially in the rapid-development world of web software, you have to keep advancing the game. You can't rely on patents to protect and ensure compensation because if you get as far as patent enforcement your software is already old.

And as a developer I find this patent troubling because its so broad. Reminds me of a politician who claimed to have invented the Internet. You cannot patent something because it happens on the Internet. If you could Amazon would have patented all online shopping back in 1995 (theoretically). If MySpace (yuck) had patented social networking we'd have never had Facebook, or LinkedIn.

As with all online business, its the companies who keep leading the industry with new features and benefits that stay on top. Not companies who try to set technology back by 10 or 15 years by trying to stop innovators. I'm not an expert in patent law but I suspect what FlightPrep is after is just too broad. If I had a prediction, its that this patent will not hold water in the long run and all that will be accomplished at the end of the day is to freeze the progress of flight prep software several years, and make people like me hesitant to get involved in anything web/aviation related.

Posted by: Jon Devine | January 1, 2011 1:02 AM    Report this comment

NavMonster may be coming back, but the FlightPrep fiasco is just beginning. They've alienated so many people I can't see how FlightPrep will ever recover. I've already joined the boycott and advised friends to do so.

Posted by: Glenn Juber | January 1, 2011 10:33 AM    Report this comment

I sent the link to this page to all my FaceBook Aviation friends. I also donated via PayPal...PayPal actually called me to see if I authorized it...it seems there were a flurry of donations and the folks at PP wanted to be sure it was legit. It gave me a real warm fuzzy about using PayPal. You don't need an account. Just select "Send Money" on the home page and use his email address from the RunwayFinder website. The rest of the process is like buying anything else online.

Posted by: Cathy Babis | January 2, 2011 3:02 PM    Report this comment

Gary bradshaw. Read this then tell me Flightprep does its business the right way. lol. http://www.aero-news.net/news/genav.cfm?ContentBlockID=9895d80b-2471-4710-bac5-a87c37210ce7&Dynamic=1

Posted by: Jerry Witt | January 2, 2011 4:50 PM    Report this comment

As someone who developed and published open source flight navigation software in the late 80's, I have to wonder what got patented. Time to find those old backup tapes.

Posted by: Julian Gomez | January 2, 2011 4:59 PM    Report this comment

The trouble with the US patent office is it's lousy with lawyers.

Those lawyers feel if they don't know something the safe thing is to "let the courts work it out". A very cavalier attitude to those of us who have to pay our lawyers.

Someone like the Runwayfinder guy would have to pay his own lawyers, maybe *all* his money by the time it's over to defend something like this.

He could lose his home, his retirement, everything over this.

If there was actually plenty of prior art (and there may well be) this was misconduct at USPTO if you ask me. The lawyers at USPTO need to be stopped. Made to take a much more jaded view at software patent applications.

Software patents are virtually always ridiculous.

Amazon one click shopping? Really? Ridiculous.

That said, regardless of the merits of the FlightPrep patent, aviation is a small community.

If you get to be known as a jerk or undesirable entity, you're dead.

I prophecy that FlightPrep will have very little business, having lost any they might have had by essentially word of mouth.

Small community.

Posted by: Steve Waechter | January 4, 2011 1:26 AM    Report this comment

So is FlightPrep now going to sue Google since the only thing Dave Parsons is guilty of is cleverly applying Google's mapping packages and API's to tile sectional charts provided by our government to make his excellent Runwayfinder website?

Posted by: Douglas Abbott | January 7, 2011 9:36 AM    Report this comment

I would like to see Flightprep get in a brawl with Jepp or Aopa.

Posted by: Jerry Witt | January 7, 2011 10:54 AM    Report this comment

FlightPrep sue Google?

No, but if that's what Runwayfinder used he should be countersuing Google, bring them in and getting *them* to invalidate the FlightPrep patent. Unlike Runwayfinder, Google could pay their lawyers with the money found in their seat cushions.

If the Google technology was used by Rundwayfinder and was FlightPrep's complaint, that is.

Is it?

Posted by: Steve Waechter | January 7, 2011 11:02 AM    Report this comment

I've worked with software patents before, and I've read the FlightPrep patent carefully. I am not a lawyer, but IMHO the FlightPrep patent is (a) too broad and (b) should not have been granted because there are/were several other applications of Internet route planning (e.g. MapQuest) already in existence when their first application for the patent was filed.

But, that being said, whether the patent is valid or not is less important to me than what I perceive to be an egregriously uncivilized attitude by FlightPrep. They are not protecting an innovation, they are trying to run a protection racket! Even if they reverse course now, they're on my permanent blacklist.

As someone else said: "like GA needs something else to drag it down!" Let's all band together and protect ourselves by protecting the victims of FlightPrep.

Posted by: Rodolfo Paiz | January 20, 2011 3:13 PM    Report this comment

@ Jerry Witt: I would like the reverse... to see AOPA, NBAA, or other such entity pick a legal fight with FlightPrep's patent, and I wonder what their stance is on the issue.

I'm already asking AOPA that very question.

Posted by: Rodolfo Paiz | January 20, 2011 3:15 PM    Report this comment

You might be interested in this.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110308/01101513393/ftc-puts-patent-trolls-notice.shtml

The FTC wrote a report about "Patent Enforcement Entities", IE firms that buy up patents that they are doing nothing with solely to sue over.

I said before the problem with these patents are they are vague and exist solely to wait for someone else to have success, then sue for a piece of the action. This is negative and results in less innovation, which the USPTO is supposed to be encouraging.

Posted by: Steve Waechter | March 8, 2011 3:25 PM    Report this comment

It has actually happened. RunwayFinder.com is no more. The gag order from the evil-doers at Stenbock & Everson, parent company of FlightPrep and its sister company ASA keeps us from finding out any details. The last posting on Dave Parson's blog tells us the reason is entirely the patent dispute he lost rather than fees for the data, etc.

I reinstate my disdain for and forever boycott of FlightPrep and its sister company ASA and their sleazy gaming the patent laws for extortion. I hope they fly VFR into IMC with a vacuum and electrical failure at night in the Sierras.

Posted by: Michael Baraz | March 11, 2012 10:36 PM    Report this comment

I have and will continue to boycott FlightPrep and ASA products. And I have convinced a few fellow pilots to do likewise, after explaining why I do.

Posted by: Walter Stuhmer | March 12, 2012 8:09 AM    Report this comment

I could not disagree more with the sentiments of this blog about Flight Prep and the patent issue. So you are all saying Patents are bad? That Americans should not be able to Patent something and protect their intellectual property? That every time a person or company expends energy, time and money to develop an idea and get it Patented and bring it to the market that they have to let everyone else have it for free? The patent system may not be perfect but neither is the FAA or the Justice system. Should we scrap both of those too? It is pretty obvious to me the writer of this article never invented anything and probably (I could be wrong) has never been an entrepreneur. BTW did you know 51% of Americans are employed by small companies like Flight Prep? Why are they the bad guys? Pay a licensing fee or invent your own idea and find other ways to compete. This is the American way and this creates competition and growth of ideas. Oh yes, but in a competition somebody has to lose, even nice people. Sorry that's life...

Posted by: Bob Lotter | March 12, 2012 10:42 AM    Report this comment

Bob Lotter, no one said all patents were bad. Just that nearly all software patents are bad.

There's a world of difference between a patent for a medical device or drug that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, test and get through FDA and most software patents. Sometimes in software there is only one reasonable way to do things and it's done that way by everyone.

There have been allegations that the patent in question is obvious and should not have been patentable but that didn't stop USPTO from issuing it.

Patenting the obvious by getting weak minded patent examiners at USPTO to accept it and then suing others who came up with the same obvious idea is the problem here. Not that all patents are somehow bad.

Posted by: Steve Waechter | March 12, 2012 11:02 AM    Report this comment

Just because our system gives you a cudgel does not mean you have to employee it.

I looked at FlightPrep's patent pretty carefully. (I have a patent. I am an entrepreneur, I have owned several small businesses and have employed a few attorneys. I have competed. I am not sure if this addresses Mr. Lotter's issues with the author of the original article.)

There is a bully effect going on with patents. IBM did they back in the 1950's and got resoundly spanked by the government for it. Enough so that they stopped innovating, checking every idea with their lawyers first, and THEN implementing it. This gave rise to Microsoft, who ate their lunch.

If IBM had not been a bully, they still would have grown and they would own the PC business today (in some form). Microsoft is EXCEEDINGLY careful not to be a bully in any arena. It is not good for a company, it is not good for the consumer, and it is not good for the economy. Tying things up in court is very, very rarely the solution you are looking for.

Posted by: Colin Summers | March 12, 2012 11:05 AM    Report this comment

Patents are meant to be protection for the little guy. It's hard to write laws that express that well, but I am betting that because of the current patent wars (Google, Apple, Kodak, Samsung et al) we will see some reform in the next ten years. But public opinion always outruns legislation.

And here is the public opinion on this matter: FlightPrep was a bully. ASA might have pressed them into it, we'll never know. FlightPrep's law firm might have lead them down the path by their nose. We'll never know. But I know that I have talked to over a hundred pilots about this issue and they all agree on one thing: FlightPrep was in the wrong, and they will never touch another ASA or FlightPrep product as long as they are flying. And any one of them will push that opinion out into a discussion the moment web sites, tablets, or anything else TAA-related pops up.

You can argue patents and laws until you are blue. The situation is too simple for that. A company with a law firm attacked a little guy who was providing a great, free service. He had invented it independently and if the FlightPrep guys really think they came up with "show a route on a computer screen when you enter two or more points" they are really sad little minds.

Posted by: Colin Summers | March 12, 2012 11:06 AM    Report this comment

For the record I have several patents and none of them were easy. All of them took years and tens of thousands in legal fees. not to mention the hundreds of thousands more spent on discovery and development of the ideas. You can't get a patent if there is prior art. That could even be a book on the subject. So if it exist in the public domain as an idea before you try to patent it, it cannot be patented.

As for the little guy. I don't know what to say. Some people are little because they are unwilling to take the extra risks with their time and money. Thus they didn't develop a unique idea or try to patent it. I don't agree we should punish the patent holder trying to exert control over their intellectual property.

Btw if you do not defend a patent, you lose it.

Posted by: Bob Lotter | March 12, 2012 11:35 AM    Report this comment

You can't get a patent if there is prior art? So a patent has never been lost during a defense or prosecution of the patent?

My understanding is that the patent could be invalidated in court. FlightPrep's should be. I know a ton of programmers, a lot of them now web programmers, who looked at the patent and said it was flimsy and wouldn't hold up in a court case. But the little guy has no funds to get there, so he folds.

As much as you are trying to make them out to be the white knight, FlightPrep's path was clear: clobber a bunch of little guys so that they could then go after the big guys (Jeppesen, which is really Boeing). You don't LOSE a patent if you don't defend it. You can send a note to someone you think is infringing and say, "You are allowed to use this without a fee, but we hold the patent." IBM did that CONSTANTLY with their collection of patents. In fact, they had one of the first publicly-accessible databases of their patents so that people could check out what was available and covered.

If FlightPrep's intentions were honorable, they would operate with more transparency. It is my sincere hope that they behavior takes them out of the marketplace. Most pilots I spoke to about this over the past year wished much worse on the FlightPrep fellows (like the poster above).

Posted by: Colin Summers | March 12, 2012 11:52 AM    Report this comment

Bob, You're completely wrong when you state "You can't get a patent if there is prior art." Check the patent for the wheel that was issued in 2000. Or the patent for linked lists that was recently issued, despite the fact that linked lists were first published in 1955. Since you also have patents, you'll know how to research those. There are organizations tracking USPTO that can point to hundreds of patents that were issued well after an idea was put into the public domain.

Posted by: Julian Gomez | March 12, 2012 8:16 PM    Report this comment

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