Garmin Sues uAvionix Over ADS-B Patent (Updated)

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Garmin has filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Montana, where uAvionix is based, accusing that company of using Garmin’s patented ADS-B technology without permission. The products under dispute are the EchoUAT and skyBeacon, which are sold for the experimental market. In the court filing, dated June 19, 2018, Garmin says they were originally involved in discussions with uAvionix relating to drones. “Over time, those discussions changed, and Garmin eventually learned that uAvionix had taken its patented ADS-B technology without permission,” according to the lawsuit. In a statement posted online Monday, uAvionix says they did not infringe Garmin's patent. "uAvionix has our own patent-pending method for using Mode 3/A and altitude information that differs from the method in the 301 Patent [U.S. Patent No. 8,102,301]," the company said. "We won’t be able to comment on the proceedings, and it will likely take some time to resolve." Meanwhile, the uAvionix statement says, they will continue to ship the disputed products. 

Garmin says in the court filing it sought to resolve the dispute before going to court, but uAvionix “dragged its feet, hid its true intentions from Garmin, and wrongly contended it designed around the ‘301 Patent.'” Garmin said they purchased the disputed uAvionix product, determined for themselves that it utilized their patented technology and decided to file the lawsuit. "The skyBeacon and EchoUAT will directly compete with Garmin’s GDL-82, GDL-84, and GDL-88,” Garmin states in the suit. Garmin asks the court to stop uAvionix from infringing its patent, and also asks the court to require uAvionix to reimburse Garmin for all of its expenses and losses related to the infringement. A Garmin spokesperson told AVweb on Monday, “Unfortunately, we cannot comment on ongoing litigation.”

(This story has been updated with comment from uAvionix.)

Comments (20)

I knew it was just too good to be true. Any chance of ADS-B technology selling for under two thousand dollars is gone.

Back to ten thousand dollar ADS-B systems with subscription charges on top. People think that autonomous electric UBERs are going to get certified in a couple years.... HaHaHa!

ADS-B 2020 mandate and lawsuits is the end of simple friendly pleasure flying. Wonder why there's a pilot shortage?

Posted by: Klaus Marx | August 20, 2018 7:57 PM    Report this comment

Besides the method of sensing the Mode A/C info, there's another unknown with the uAvionix solutions not yet addressed to MY satisfaction. The power output of their devices is mighty low. I don't know how they get around the TSO power out requirements? Beyond that, this suit says much about Garmin, as well. Looks to me like they're splitting hairs here.

As Klaus says ... another razor blade cut in GA ...

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 21, 2018 2:04 AM    Report this comment

"Back to ten thousand dollar ADS-B systems with subscription charges on top. People think that autonomous electric UBERs are going to get certified in a couple years" --

There are no subscription charges for ADS-B, and my ADS-B out system cost me $3,500 for a panel-mounted system. $2,000 would be even more attractive but wasn't available when I had mine installed.

Posted by: Keith Monteith | August 21, 2018 11:36 AM    Report this comment

I do understand Garmin wanting to protect their investment in R&D. This new uAvionix should not have collaborated, cancelled joint work and then launched their system so soon and so close to Garmin's product. It just screams "I stole your idea and now I will make my money for nothing and my chicks for free". I want my, I want my, I want my ADS-B.

Posted by: Roger Mullins | August 21, 2018 11:59 AM    Report this comment

As an old friend once put it, "it's a mighty thin pancake that has only one side."

I find it curious that Garmin has sued the smallest company with the cheapest product (i.e. smallest legal defense fund, most threatening to their market share). Unencumbered by experience or training, it seems to me that Freeflight and L3 also 'sniff' the transponder code like Garmin's patent. Yet no one's bothering them.

The cynic in me says this is more about market share than patent protection. If I'm wrong then uAvionix should be punished. But if I'm right, boycott Garmin.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | August 21, 2018 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Sniffing cable externally is not a new method in the wold of data acquisition.....this makes no sense to me. Another reason no adsb out in my aircraft to date

Posted by: Butch Harrell | August 21, 2018 1:26 PM    Report this comment

If you read the Garmin timeline in the opening documents of this patent infringement lawsuit, you will notice they claim to have patented this technology back in 2009. Yet they never used any of this technology in their own products including the GDL-82 which was designed to compete with the uAvionix. They had to resort to the Chinese style of business competition by buying an off the shelf unit, dissecting it and the reverse engineering it to find out how this might all work.

Now they know they don't have this technology and their only course is to sue. A clear case of sour grapes.

Yes, it does much to reveal the character of Garmin.

I do not work for uAvionix or Garmin. I am an A&P who happens to fix GA airplanes for a living. I have some Garmin products in my airplane. I have no proverbial axe to grind.

However, right is right. I am tired of being a GA end user abused by manufacturers who think because I can afford an airplane, it is an open door to my wallet. The idea I need them more than they need me is insulting and financially painful.

uAvionix has been a breath of fresh air in the ADS-B market. There are some others doing an equally good job. I plan to use their products with confidence on my airplane.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | August 21, 2018 1:51 PM    Report this comment

Since WHEN can Garmin own MY transponder signal?
It's NONE of their business and it's not theirs to control.
If "I" want uAvionix to use it then "I" can let them.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 21, 2018 4:25 PM    Report this comment

Jim ... you're incorrect about the GDL-82. That box runs the transponder antenna cable through it and 'sniffs' it to determine squawk code and altitude. Garmin has a name for this idea -- autosquawk. In fact, the GDL-82 won't let you command/squawk anonymous if you're squawking anything but 1200; you can only squawk anonymous if you're NOT using ATC services.

Garmin claims you can use their GDL-82 with other brands of transponders. SO ... do THEY pay a royalty to -- say -- Narco or King -- to sniff their IFF signals being sampled? (sic)

I'm, too, am an A&P with heavy avionics background but use it mostly for my own purposes. I have MAJOR heartburn with the way Garmin runs its business model but I chose their ADS-B equipment last year because it IS good and the brand of choice by most folks. That said, they protect their dealer network ferociously ... just try to buy a box that requires an STC-AML outside of that network. You can do it but you won't get the warranty or STC license in most cases. And their manuals are SO overly cumbersome as if they intend for anyone but a few to succeed at the installations. If Garmin isn't careful, they're going to go down the very same path King did in the late 90's and early 2000's. Methinks THAT is why they're attacking uAvionix ... because they are small fry with little cash to defend themselves, as Kirk described.

I could describe horror stories of having bought a Garmin box and then needing a little bit of tech advice. I was told to go to the dealer I bought the darned thing from. Yet ... if I had an E-AB ... no problemo ... they'd help me right away.

Garmin "character" ... yeah ... right.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 21, 2018 10:09 PM    Report this comment

I am interested in seeing the litigation complaint. I have been in these disputes before and see right now where this has to go. It almost has to be a software patent because Garmin products (GDL-82 anyway) are connected to the aircraft transponder coax. uAvionics receives the airborne signal transmitted by the aircraft.

Posted by: Homer Landreth | August 22, 2018 11:05 AM    Report this comment

Hi Larry,
Not trying to debate or be obnoxious. Just trying to better understand.

I am an A&P with out much avionics background. My knowledge is more mechanical and diagnostic.

My understanding of the GDL - 82 is the transponder information is fed directly to the GDL-82 via a coax cable...similar to many other ADS-B manufacturers. Our shop has installed several including one recently on a SR-22. This method of transfer or transponder information gathering via coax seems to be a pretty standard way of ADS-B engineering by the majority of manufacturers. This is why I used the term "hardwired".

When the transponder is connected to the ADS-B via this coax pathway, because most legacy transponders use the standard stick/bulb transponder antenna, this direct feed of transponder information to the ADS-B that is broadcast and received by this particular transponder antenna causes an increase load input/output of the transponder itself. This causes, in many cases, early transponder failure. The cure for this load change experienced by the legacy transponder directly connected to the ADS-B unit is rectified by replacing the stick/bulb antenna with a blade type antenna. Garmin discusses this possibility in their voluminous installation manual. They even have a blade antenna designed for the GDL-82 as a solution for this potential issue for an additional $795. So, I have a hard time understanding the significance of Autosquawk or the term "sniffing".

However, uAvionix gathers the standard transponder broadcast wirelessly. It is just picking up, gathering, absorbing ( whatever the proper term may be) the standard transponder signal which in my case of a KT76A, has been broadcasting and receiving just fine for the last 15+ years with the greasy stick/bulb antenna located on the belly of my airplane. No change of input/output loads to my transponder since there is no direct connection between uAvionix ADS-B and the KT76A.

It appears Garmin method of transponder information gathering cannot be done wirelessly, or they would have incorporated that into the GDL-82 saving a lot of installation hours and/or transponder antenna changes. I appears that they are trying to equate whatever is going on between the coax and the pins connected to it, that it is "sniffing" the signal, sounding to the layman, that it is doing something similar to the wireless information obtained by the uAvionix products.

Wow, that would be a stretch! And instead of suing uAvionix, they should be all over Free Flight Systems, Appareo/Stratus, Bendix-King, Sandia Aerospace,etc.

Again...sour grapes.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | August 22, 2018 12:11 PM    Report this comment

Shame on Garmin, rolling in dough, trying to sue a tiny innovative company out of business over a bogus patent that never should have been issued! I'll never give Garmin another dollar!

Garmin's patent, picking up the transponder signal by running a wire near the transponder to pick up the signal, is invalid because they did not come up with this idea. This technique has been used for many decades in other situations. To use it specifically to pick up the transponder signal is "obvious". Patent ideas may not be "obvious".

Posted by: Bob Toxen | August 22, 2018 2:10 PM    Report this comment

Jim ... the GDL-82 isn't "loading" the transponder at all. It COULD be changing the impedance (sorta like resistance but more complicated) on the transmission line (coax) such that there's a standing wave ratio (SWR) issue because an extra piece of coax needs to be inserted in the 'line' plus two connectors? But I think it's highly unlikely that the transponder is impacted in any other way. I'd have to know more about the whole installation to have anything more than an opinion.

The GDL-82 -- and any other boxes which might use this scheme to determine the transponder code and encoder info -- does NOT "load" the transponder. The best way to describe it is to think of numerous car radios "sniffing" an AM or FM radio signal. They don't load anything. The amount of electromagnetic information being absorbed is SO miniscule that it makes no difference. Same thing with the GDL-82.

As to the difference between the old time 'stick' antenna and blade ... anyone who tries to tell you that one type is better than another is scamming you. An antenna is an antenna. Period. At higher speeds, the blade antenna is required for structural reasons because of dynamic pressure against it ... but nothing more. IF Garmin is trying to convince anyone in their manual that a $795 antenna is required ... they are flat out stealing money! Either antenna is a quarter-wave antenna which should present a pure resistance (or close to it) load to the transmission line (coax) from the transponder. Most older installations used RG-58 single shielded transmission line which is no longer used or certified. Somwhere in their manuals they should be recommending the newer RG400 or RG142 DOUBLE SHIELDED and certified coax to replace the old stuff. THIS could be an issue. In the manuals for the GTX335, they require RG400 stranded coax for GPS and IFF antennas.

As to how uAvionix 'sniffs' the signal ... it HAS to be via the power wiring coming into it. It COULD be via an antenna embedded in their units, as well. Either way, the coax between the transponder and antenna is not tapped into. Methinks uAvionix will prevail in this one.

BTW ... beyond many years as an A&P and avionix (error intentional) type ... I've been a ham for 60 years, as well. I know how to put flashlight batteries in my flashlight without electrocuting myself :-) .

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 22, 2018 4:20 PM    Report this comment

Remember what happened to NavWorx, that appeared to be a robust UAT system that worked, or so it seemed. Good in flight reports and now that company is gone! Well I do have sour grapes and I still believe it was more than the FAA fault or even NavWorx total fault. I believe there is more to that whole story and those NavWorx boxes could have been fixed. Why has it all been swept under the carpet. My wallet is $4.4 K smaller, and I still holding off hoping someone comes up with a fix for the NavWorx products. Anyway, I now see this new low priced alternative coming under attack, by guess who, because the FAA, is staying out of it, unlike before. (That may not be true, but other thought of it first.)

While ADS-B has many good intentions and the government has put a lot of money into it, from what I read, the systems still has flaws and problems. I have been burned once and still hope for a resolution to the NavWorx system. The FAA knew of signal issues long before they came out with a letter and finally an AD. Why? I ask. There is more behind that outcome that hurt many who purchased that system. Anyway, I see a second low cost solution company being targeted. I sincerely hope they can get through this. Their compact system seem revolutionary! Anyway, I am waiting this out and lets see if the the mandate does gets extended. We will see.

Posted by: Wayne 'Dutch' Leydsman | August 22, 2018 4:44 PM    Report this comment

Paul Beard, CEO of uAionix pioneered 2.4Ghrz spread spectrum technology. It revolutionized all facets of RC modeling almost overnight. Millions of RC vehicles aerial or otherwise use this technology today including military remote piloted aircraft. RC technology has led the way for physical control of the drone/UAV/UAS 's we see today and the foreseeable future. None of this was possible with out 2.4Ghrz technology. Spread spectrum technology allowed the demonstration of 100 drones flying in a coordinated fashion at Oshkosh during the night airshow and the talented gal flying that 3D aerobatic routine with her 1/3rd scale Extra.. No drone crashed or ran into each other or was "glitched" by any other drone or frequency. Nor did the RC pilot have any frequency/jamming issues with any other transmitting or receiving device.

By his own words, Beard had to deal with the American Modeling Association which is the RC modeling counterpart of the FAA. It is a huge now bureaucratic organization with congressional lobbying power not only familiar to all RC modelers but with drone integration and traffic identification/separation issues, is working with the FAA in partnership. Beard has much experience dealing with a powerful agency with a built in resistance to change. He went from being banned flying his new technology to revolutionizing all facets of remote control now embraced and recommended by the AMA.

He has the intestinal fortitude and knowledge to handle Garmin, the FAA, and I believe he did not just "give away" his patented 2.4Ghrz technology which could make him well equipped to take on Garmin financially. In my layman's, blue collar opinion 2.4Ghrz technolgy applied to ADS-B OUT is the magic ingredient Garmin does not have. This is why agree with Larry, uAvionix will prevail.

And if Garmin continues down this path, it could prove to be a major blow to their already tarnished image which could cost them far more financially due to lost customer loyalty than they presently imagine.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | August 23, 2018 11:11 AM    Report this comment

Just to add a bit to Jim Holdeman's post, here's an AMA bio about Paul Beard:

www.modelaircraft.org/sites/default/files/BeardPaul.pdf

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | August 24, 2018 6:00 AM    Report this comment

Ok, Let's see...ADS-B has not come down to a reasonable cost as some would have you believe. Uavionix is coming closer. Owners and operators installing ADS-B only talk about the purchase cost of the "box" and are mostly disingenuous about the true cost of ADS-B mandate. Ok, the box can be $2000, but, for most GA who fly older aircraft and unless you are "well healed" or already spent thousands, we do not have all the accessory requirements; i.e., WAAS GPS installed (biggest cost). So, start the adding machine! ADS-B box $2000, WAAS GPS (your choice) $5000, Transponder (used) $1000, and the 'kicker'...Installation...Start with $5000....

I spoke with Garmin Sales guys at AirVenture (numerous times), and BendixKing. Arguably, 88-95% of the transponder market for GA. Each (including Uavionix) say the circuitry required for WAAS GPS is in the neighborhood of $100. So, the question, especially for folks like BK, "Why not just add WAAS GPS circuitry to the "drop-in" replacement transponders that they produce for a truly fully compliant solution?"

Now, I'll jump out....

Posted by: eric pearson | August 27, 2018 8:53 AM    Report this comment

I hate to tell you Eric ... but there ARE several manufacturers who build a "drop in" transponder with the compliant WAAS-GPS built in. BK (which is built by Trig) isn't one of 'em. Neither is Trig. You'd need a separate GPS source but it ISN'T $5K ! It's more in the order of $2K for each. A Garmin GTX335 with built in GPS and antenna and serial encoder can be had for ~$3K not installed. I did my own installation for less than that after subtracting the rebate last year. There ARE one box solutions on the market now.

The uAvionix solutions are UAT which require that you have an operable transponder already installed. Unless your airplane has a late model solid state transponder, it would be a giant mistake to keep an old transponder and then buy a UAT to comply with ADS-B. I STILL question how uAvionix gets sufficient power out to comply with the mandate but that's a separate issue.

Whenever anyone asks MY professional opinion on what they should do ... my stock going in recommendation is to go the 1090MHz route and replace the transponder with a fully compliant ADS-B transponder and be done with it all. AND ... there's a not so know advantage if you buy a GTX335 with WAAS GPS ... that position source can be shared with one of their G5 displays as long as you have the correct version of s/w built into the 335.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 27, 2018 9:58 PM    Report this comment

This is a good reason to wait past 2020.
I hope uAvionix prevails.
Garmin is a quasi - monopolistic avionics bully and always has been .

Posted by: gary steinberg | September 5, 2018 10:20 AM    Report this comment

As you guys in aviation know, it matters not one whit what you *think* or *assume*. It matters only what the law says. And if you read the patent owned by Garmin, it's pretty clear that uAvionix has violated the patent in the very first claim. True, the patent was goofily written and has weird stuff in the description that appear to have been written by someone who knows nothing of the current radar/transponder environment, and one would hope the engineers at Garmin understand that the primary source of radar interrogations is not from TCAS, but I digress. The way these things usually work out is not to put the infringing company out of business, but rather to force them to pay a license fee. So if you've already ordered and received your infringing product, you might be in luck, but if you are still waiting in line, and they come to an agreement for a license fee paid to Garmin, your price may go up. When the tables are turned and a big company rips off a smaller company's patented product, as Microsoft did with Stac Electronics, that's when companies go out of business. I would have provided a link to the patent, but despite the fact that the sole purpose of the Internet and HTML is to provide a method of hyperlinking, AvWeb doesn't allow links. So, if you still don't know how to research patents online, shame on you. Go look this one up and read it and weep. Garmin owns this technology. I don't see how uAvionix got around this.

Posted by: Dave Morris | September 29, 2018 11:09 PM    Report this comment

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