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Squawks & HeadlinesFlightPrep Patents Online Flight Planning, Starts Shaking Down Everyone

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FlightPrep Patents Online Flight Planning, Starts Shaking Down Everyone

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SkyVector? Handing over a huge percentage of gross. RunwayFinder? Shut down after a $3.2M/mo lawsuit. Who's next? (blog.runwayfinder.com) More...

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yock
Dave isn't allowing any discussion of his agreement w/ FlightPrep in the SkyVector forums, but count me among the disappointed. I can't see this working out well for him in the long run with the precedent he has helped set.
HunterTS4
Toby Sharp 0
lets all ruin them
jdanish
jdanish 0
Not true, FltPlan has been in business since 1999.
jdanish
chiphermes
Chip Hermes 0
It looks like Flightprep is a failing company that thinks suing free web sites is the solution to their problems. Their patent seems bogus, but I'm sure they can destroy tons of free services before someone proves that. The only way that people like us can help is by spreading the word and voting with our wallets -- not that I think many people are actually paying flightprep to begin with.
HunterTS4
Toby Sharp 0
flightprep flightsmep, they are dead to me now, i may make t shirts
zcolescott
This really, really sucks, and I will be incredibly PO'd if this in anyway impacts my service with ForeFlight as I completely love and endorse the product.
HunterTS4
Toby Sharp 0
..........i didnt even think about ForeFlight! ahhh i have lost all hope in mankind.......sigh
zcolescott
Yeah, doesn't ForeFlight use RunwayFinder somehow or another when generating its maps?? Can I sue FlightPrep for damages since the only reason I decided to purchase the iPad was for ForeFlight??
MrGreatPilot
Fast Pilot 0
From FlightPrep’s attorney’s letter of December 9th to RunwayFinder: “While we appreciate your offer to shut down the website to stop future infringement, we notice that your website is still operation. And without further information from you, our only means to assess the potential damages is the observation that your website had 22,256 unique visitors in July 2010. Each visit represents a potential lost sale of our client’s patented invention at $149 per sale. This damage calculation exceeds $3.2 million per month in lost revenue.”

Gotta love that kind of logic. :(
cheshire
Cal Keegan 0
Never heard of flightprep before this news story, but all it took was one look at their joke of a windows app to see what is going on here. Can't innovate? Litigate!

The biggest mistake beyond the USPTO's patent is that flightprep thinks they can put people out of business and then they'll get more business. The irony is they'll, of course, get less because the community will put the word out. It is important for anyone who doesn't want innovation suffocated by losing companies to upvote this story, post links on Facebook, post to twitter, get the word out...
jmcf
"...our only means to assess the potential damages..."

Really? Wow. It's equal parts tragic and comic to see a company decide that litigation is their only way to compete. This story is just more proof that not all exposure is good exposure, they've guaranteed that I'll never do business with them.

Who sues a free website?
MrGreatPilot
Fast Pilot 0
From FlightPrep's blog: Although we believe RunwayFinder infringes on our patent, we also believe it is in the best interests of pilots to have RunwayFinder as an operational website. Accordingly, we have offered to grant a free-license to RunwayFinder to operate its website during this negotiation phase our legal dispute. We are not asking RunwayFinder to shut down and in-fact are offering them a temporary free-pass at our technology in hopes that this gesture of goodwill will better enable both RunwayFinder and FlightPrep to constructively work toward a mutually beneficial long-term solution.

http://blog.flightprep.com/2010/12/flightprep-grants-runwayfinder.html
chiphermes
Chip Hermes 0
Fast Pilot, the article linked says that runwaypilot never was directly given that offer and Flightprep's lawyers were still pursuing him for >$3MM/mo. There's absolutely no point in suing a web site with no revenue for patent infringement unless they think they can shut it down and get the user base.
HunterTS4
Toby Sharp 0
i too only purchased the i-pad for foreflight, im sure countless thousands of pilots have........
tyketto
Straight from the USPTO:

"The protection afforded by a patent does not start until the actual grant of the patent."

According to the USPTO, it was originally filed in 2005, with portions backdated to 2001. Apparently it was awarded this year (the Patent has no issue date). So how could RunwayFinder have infringed on something that wasn't awarded until later this year, that would have generated lost revenue? The patent wasn't awarded during the time they are claiming. Someone definitely needs to take the facts to them and call their bluff.
lboyette
Lloyd Boyette 0
It doesn't take an idiot to figure out 10% of nothing is still nothing. Giving someone a " Free Pass " in hopes of generating revenue from something that doesn't make any money to begin with is just plain stupid. They claim that they don't want to see RF go, however, pressuring them with legal notices of a potential lawsuit would make anyone want to back down.... especially when they don't make any money.

I would personally call for a Boycott of ANY Flightprep product. Bullying the competition ( who really isn't any competition at all to begin with ) is just poor business ethics.
MrGreatPilot
Fast Pilot 0
Agreed Chip. It looks like FlightPrep might be trying to recover a little bit here. Seems like the damage done to FlightPrep is probably permanent.
tyketto
The best way to 'ruin' them is to invalidate the patent. Anything prior-art related, or with a good understanding of patent or IP law could see that this is a farce. A decent judge could easily put together the timeline on this chronologically and see what is happening. Someone just needs to stand up and call FlightPrep on it.
HunterTS4
Toby Sharp 0
someone will. they will get what's comin to them. pardon my French
chiphermes
Chip Hermes 0
Flightprep released some new propaganda about how they're the good guys:

http://blog.flightprep.com/2010/12/regarding-runwayfinder-shutting-down.html

Unfortunately for them, everyone understands that the reason RunwayFinder shut down is because they don't want to negotiate with FlightPrep -- RunwayFinder clearly doesn't want to pay FlightPrep in order to operate a free web site that has nothing to do with flightprep's stupid patent.

Flightprep should give up trying to extort money and try to actually innovate & make money selling good products.
MrGreatPilot
Fast Pilot 0
A quote from Flight Prep's blog referenced by Chip that actually made me laugh out loud: "This latest move of RunwayFinder, electing to shut down its website, is another example of an attempt to inflame the pilot community." Right. After being threatened with a multi-million dollar lawsuit, the site shuts down only to inflame the pilot community. Now that I think about it, this isn't funny, it's pathetic.
w7psk
Ricky Scott 0
Fast Pilot
that post is the first of multiple High speed back pedals :).
garymcginnis
Gary McGinnis 0
What I don't understand is how can you "patent" a program that uses government charts made by the NCO which is paid for by tax payers?

I never used runwayfinder but know its very similar to skyvector, which I use almost exclusively when flight planning/dispatching in the U.S. even with jepps available (enroute only), and I just want to know if this company is going to go after skyvector next?
yock
They already extorted money from SkyVector. The guy who runs it paid up.
garymcginnis
Gary McGinnis 0
You're kidding? If true, that not only pisses me off but also makes me feel guilty that I use skyvector so much.
tyketto
Michael kids you not, Gary.

If you look down at the bottom of any chart at SkyVector, you will see "portions licensed by FlightPrep" with the patent number next to it. Also, the people running SkyVector have been completely silent about it and refuse to comment. Just from that alone, I am not planning on using SkyVector anytime soon.

You would also think that by this right and logic, FlightPrep would have to sue the AOPA, because their product infringes on their patent.
fleff
fleff 0
Here are some things we can all do to help put a dent in FlightPrep's business model and perhaps make them reconsider the unfortunate allocation of their resources.

1) Write them an email telling them that you and everyone else you know will not be doing business with FP

2) Post your displeasure to their FaceBook page (http://www.facebook.com/FlightPrep)

3) If you have an iPad/iPhone, write a review of their iCharts application and be sure to mention WHY you won't be using any of their applications and the reason that their apps suck is because they spend money on frivolous lawsuits instead of software development.

4) Tell everyone you know about this situation and what they can do. Share this list with them.

5) Buy the domain name, http://boycottflightprep.com, and post information on how people can make their opinions heard and put a dent into FP's wallet

6) Add to my list!

Frank
Idaharvey
Why the hard feelings against SkyVector?

Seems like blaming the kid who gave his lunch money to the bully for the bully beating up another kid.
yock
Because he has validated the claims of an extortionist.
fleff
fleff 0
Michael, You can't expect SV to stand up to the Bully. He cannot be expected to carry the torch for the rest of the industry.
Here's a question...what if someone was operating a site truly as a hobby? No advertising, no marketing, no LLC...just a personal site. Can a personal site violate a patent?

Frank
Idaharvey
I see your point. This whole thing stinks.
garymcginnis
Gary McGinnis 0
I think we need to support skyvector for one simple reason. They didn't tuck tail and shut down while waiting for this to play out. The people at skyvector probably know this company has nothing but kept the pilots in mind for the time being knowing they will end up recrewing the money lost.

So while I agree with everyone I don't agree boycotting skyvector just because they kept "us" in mind. Take my 2/5ths of a nickle for what its worth though.
tyketto
Frank,

This is where places like the Electronic Frontier Foundation come into play. They like to handle situations like this, where prior art, software and technologies handled under free software licenses, etc. have validity. This case certainly has that. So they may be interested in hearing something like this or even taking it on.

As far as standing up to the bully, I would expect anyone with good character and integrity to not only tell the bully that they are wrong, but also defend the little guy against the bully. Anything like giving into them, is like Michael says, giving validity and enabling the bully. They need to be told they are wrong and stood up against.
AIRMINZEY
AIRMINZEY 0
tell FP that we can get way better service from Jeppesen, especialy now that they have a I pad App
dstreufe
dstreufe 0
Are there any corporations who have significant contracts with FlightPrep? Perhaps we could pressure them to stop doing business with the company. AOPA doesn't use them for anything, do they?
dstreufe
dstreufe 0
I think that AOPA should intervene on behalf of Runwayfinder.com with legal assistance against FlightPrep. If you agree, contact AOPA and let them know. I would be willing to donate to a legal fund that AOPA establishes to "defend against FlightPrep's meritless patents" against runwayfinder whoever else they decide to sue, and I suspect many other AOPA members would gladly contribute to this fund.
dstreufe
dstreufe 0
I would encourage _everyone_ to contact Kyle Everson and Roger Stenbock at their office number 503-678-4360 and email them at kyle@flightprep.com, roger@flightprep.com, roger@stenbock.com, and roger.stenbock@gmail.com.

Let them know that you feel their patent is meritless, you will no longer do business with them, and encourage others to stop doing business with FlightPrep unless they immediately drop their lawsuit against runwayfinder.com, and any other company they decide to extort.

Unless runwayfinder.com employs a piece of code they wrote, I feel they have no standing here.
flyer522
Seems like an absolutely futile attempt to try to extort money from websites who embody the true spirit of all of the aviation community. We need to put a stop to this in whatever way possible; before they ruin all of our great free aviation websites out there. Just imagine the magnitude of harm this could do to all online aviation resources. In my book FlightPrep is a low-class company that does not belong in any part of the aviation industry.

~Holton
dstreufe
dstreufe 0
I cannot verify this, but according to a posting on the runwayfinder.com blog, Roger Stenbock is a significant owner/shareholder of ASA as well. Again, this is currently unverified, but he _has_ apparently authored quite a bit of their material.

What I would assume is his cell phone number is listed here: http://www.stenbock.com/About_Us.html

According to that website, if you have any questions regarding Stenbock Communications, you can give him a ring....
dstreufe
dstreufe 0
Please note, all statements made by me on this discussion thread reflect only my OPINION, not necessarily known facts, or the opinion of my employer. Thanks.
mookie5913
Evan Thrams 0
Make sure you post on their facebook page, Goes directly too them and everyone on that page can see aswell. I just told them how me and my flightschool will not be using any flightprep products
ruagatr
ruagatr 0
Flightprep will die its rightful death. Runwayfinder will be back. Thats the nice thing about capitalism--sooner or later the slimeballs fall like flightprepjunk.....
chiphermes
Chip Hermes 0
Not sure if this should be a separate squawk (anyone feel free to do so) but Russ Niles at Avweb did a podcast with Flightprep to discuss the situation. It's pretty easy to read between the lines and the spin is ridiculous -- "mutually beneficial" deals with free websites to "promote" their supposed technology. Pretty funny although your blood may boil:

http://www.avweb.com/podcast/podcast/AudioPodcast_FlightPrep_InternetFlightPlanningPatent_RossNeher_203795-1.html
tyketto
Definitely time to get the EFF involved. They especially take interest in bogus patent cases, and if the case is warranting enough, provide pro bono assistance on this. I think this is worth a comment on RunwayFinder's blog now.
dmanuel
dmanuel 0
I do not really know at what point a change or tweak to a product magically crosses a line that makes it immune to charges of patent infringement. Obviously, we see coexistence of very similar products like word processors, photo editing and web browsers, so I am confused why FlightPrep feels they have exclusive use of on-line flight planning. I am sure many of you are software experts and are well aware of what constitutes a differencing code or compiler. Perhaps a bit of insight to RunwayFinder is all it would take to show that FlightPrep is a house of cards.
I wonder if FlightPrep will try to make the case that Jeppesen on-line flight planning infringes on their patent. If so, would that make them the prime plaintiff in the (2007) ACLU suit charging the trip planning services supported torture flights? If so, I suspect litigation would not seem so tasty an option.
tyketto
Perhaps, dmanuel.

But if that were the case, I would suspect that they would argue that the patent wasn't awarded to them at that time, which would be their Achilles' heel. For if the patent wasn't awarded to them then, and places like SkyVector, RunwayFinder, FA, and others were around at that time, that makes their charge for patent infringement and lost revenue invalid, as they would be prior art.
jdanish
jdanish 0
Never used any of them, use FltPlan.com. free with flight plan filling, fee for international eApis filling.
jdanish comm-multi-inst-cfii
tyketto
That's the problem, though. FltPlan.com would also be susceptible to this 'patent infringement'.
tyketto
RunwayFinder has been in business since 2005. FA and SkyVector has been here just as long. It hasn't stopped FlightPrep yet.
mshunter
mshunter 0
The timeframe of the buisness does not matter. If they are taking money away from a new patent, then they are still taking away the revenue, and can still file a lawduit. This lawsuit id frivolous, and needs to be gotten rid of. I hate companies that do stuff like this. They backfiled their paper work and he is lieing in the podcast. The information of when the patent was submitted is on the paper work. If he feels differently about it, he can show the paper work to prove it. It's only a matter of time before all of the online flight planing websites have to start charging because of this guy. From what I understand he had several patents that were rejected, so the judge probably got sick of it and granted this patent to shut him up.
dstreufe
dstreufe 0
I would encourage all AOPA members to contact AOPA at 1-800-872-2672. Ask for the “pilot information center” then request to be transferred to “Toni”. She is apparently the one collecting comments on this issue. Let her know what you think AOPA should be doing about this. Keep in mind that FlightPrep is an AOPA advertiser.

Just as I’m sure AOPA would reject an advertising request for an ambulance chasing law firm who sues pilots after aviation incidents, I would argue that AOPA should also reject FlightPrep as an advertiser based on the harm (in my opinion) that the enforcement of this dubious patent is inflicting on the aviation community as a whole. Remember, your dues support AOPA. We need someone to take action.
davestarr
David Starr 0
I'm really saddened by this whole chain of events. Most sad becuase our own UP Patent office is apparently hopelessly blind to what a patent really should consist of in order to have merit. Prior Art, gentlemen? Ever heard of it?

I'm also saddened by the enthusiastic litigious "solution' to an alleged problem. What can anyone trying to build a business out of a service which didn't even exists a few years ago possibly hope to gain by inhibiting free competition. Most of the information itself and the Internet technology used is US government provided and sponsored materials already paid for by the US taxpayer.

A very sad commentary on the state of our nation and the inter-personal relationships we as citizens have fostered. Sue first, ask questions later. In most countries (UK for example), much of the materiel and services Flight Prep has patented would be under Crown Copyright and not publicly available to them or any user to pick up for free and then attempt to charge for.

It's almost Christmas and it certainly appears the Grinch is still alive any well. Merry Christmas to the rest of you out there.
DDiNardo
Dave DiNardo 0
Interesting to see noty a single endorsement of FlightPrep within this tread.

Best course of action is to hit AOPA hard. They are in a position to influence the Government, and will get the picture if they see many pilots/dues-paying members outraged by FlightPrep's actions.
RogerStenbock
Trolls, just like our politicians in Washington, trying to take something that isn't theirs from people who haven't infringed on the trolls property, but don't have the resources to fight a bunch of lawyers who have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Just a bunch of slimy ambulance chasers. And the chief troll claims to be a CFII who has been instructing for years.

Must be related to Al Gore, wonder if he invented the internet too.
BoycottFlightPrep
I have started a website, BoycottFlightPrep.com in order to bring light to this issue and hopefully get FlightPrep to drop their lawsuits.
stevecfi
stevecfi 0
I plan to boycott FlightPrep AND any other company that purchases their license to use there "patent". I will also not purchase from any company that allows flightprep to advertise on their site.
cheshire
Cal Keegan 0
@davestarr Agreed, the bar for originality is waaaayyyy too low. Nobody should be able to claim having invented something new based on taking something that is already being done and adding the words "using a computer" or "on the Internet", yet that's what a lot of these patents look like. People attempting to file ridiculously obvious patents should be laughed out of the patent office.

We need some leadership here by someone who will actually try to do what's best for the country instead of surrendering to the rent seekers. Patents are a double-edged sword. Filing patents then sitting on them, producing nothing, and waiting until an industry grows into exist and then suing the bejesus out of it does not promote progress in the arts and sciences. It is a misuse of patents and it is a drag on our society.
wfanning
wfanning 0
In an earlier post someone said that Roger Stenbock is an owner in ASA. I know the owner and I can assure you that Roger Stenbock has no ownership in ASA whatsoever. He is but one of their many vendors provides about 8 of the over 400 products they sell. I have also met Roger on many occasions and this comes as no suprise.
fireboy63
fireboy63 0
Yeah, the interview on AVWeb with Ross Neher of FlightPrep is astounding: he keeps this cool and collected attitude the whole time, and speaks in generalities almost the entire time. His non-answers are incredible - check out this sample from the interview:

Interviewer: "Companies like Jeppesen, AOPA - very large, very powerful entities that are doing similar things to RunwayFinder - can they expect a letter from you?"
Neher: "We've contacted a number of other services in the industry...we've received a number of replies from other services in the industry...and we look forward to working with those other services in the industry. Who they specifically are - what we're saying to them or anything like that - I don't have any of those details for you today."

Kudos to the interviewer for keeping it cool and yet still asking all the right questions...even if he did only get comically ambiguous answers.

What a crock. These FlightPrep guys are an absolute shame to the aviation industry.
CBoyd
CBoyd 0
Like I told Mr. Stenbock: Looks like you just crapped in your own mess kit. What a pathetic and despicable path these people have chosen to take.
Bironas
Current State-of-art patents are awarded alll of the time. Not a good story for the patent office. Look at what xxx company had to go through when IBM claimed an award for their BIO. This seems to be another instance of the same ol' patent stories that many could tell. I developed a radio remote control snow plow control for all of the most popular snow plows and had to pay a royalty to Snow Way. I stopped production of the product hence stopped their royalty payments. Their patent was also current state of the art. Patents are great where there is merit but so many of them are counter productive. I think that a boycot is probably the easiest way to stop this dead in it's tracks. I'm not advocating a boycot though.
jhgilley
Gilley James 0
Wow! I just today became aware of this controversy. I guess the I Pad I just bought my wife (my navigator) for Christmas wasn't the perfect gift I thought it was. As a 40 year member of AOPA I will certainly contact them.
pucho
RunwayFinder needs to go WORDLY! Yes, and in variosu languages!!
ONC Charts are no longer published for some parts of the world, aviation weather is nonexistant in most places, and General Aviation is healthy and growing.

As far as I know there is no history of US Patent infringements in Tinbaktu or some other exciting world destination that are people friendly (US patent infringemnets clones have been coming from China, Taiwan, India, etc. for years).

Wouldn't mind flying my plane to visit their headquarters in Bahamas, or some other exotic island.
9thLife
Dale Lewis 0
Why don't we (the people) buy the company and then fire everybody?
keylempi
Ken Strite 0
Owning a patant is one thing. Charging for use of the patented object is pure greed. Thomas Edison rarely collected on his patents as he saw them as "for the good of humanity." It's expensive enough to participate in aviation. FlightPrep is trying to make that exponentially worse. If I see them at Sun-N-Fun there will be unkind works spoken... you can count on that.
BoycottFlightPrep
Just updated www.boycottFlightPrep.com

Added a petition, please sign! Thanks
keylempi
Ken Strite 0
I meant Ben Franklin, not Thomas Edison... sorry.
all4count
Scott Phelps 0
Never heard of FlightPrep before today when my favorite quick weather site NavMonster said it was shut down. I checked out the FlightPrep site - how amateur! You've got to be kidding me - REALLY? This was the patent - you can patent a pile of crap now?

FlightPrep - you're going to lose this one. Aviators are not the kind of people that take this sort of legal maneuver on the chin and walk away. You're in for a fight - not with the competing vendors, but with the consumers of this kind of product. You WILL lose this fight.

You shouldn't rattle that cage little boy - this dog bites!
pfyust
Paul Yust 0
I put my money where my mouth is.

Runway finder is now acception donations for their legal fund. I made a nice paypal donation and I am thinking of giving even more money. So if Flightprep is reading this, take notice. Not only will I not buy the crummy Flightprep products but I will give that money to any companies that are fighting Flightprep.