AOPA hit with lawsuit over flight planner

HILLSBORO, Ore. — SD Holdings LLC has filed a $66 million patent infringement lawsuit against the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

The suit, brought by Peter A. Haas on July 29, claims AOPAs FlyQ Flight Planner infringes two SD Holdings patents. The patents were awarded Dec. 29, 2009 and May 12, 2013, to inventors Roger Stenbock and Kyle Everson.

According to the lawsuit filing, SD Holdings, a Washington corporation, “is assignee of full title and interest to U.S. Patent No. 7,640,098 and U.S. Patent 8,447,512.”

“SD Holdings has significant contacts with this jurisdiction as the members of this limited liability company are located in the State of Oregon,” as noted in the lawsuit filing. The Washington Secretary of State website reports SD Holdings filing date as Dec. 7, 2012 and lists “Flight Prep” as a member.

A search of the Oregon Secretary of State website turns up two occurrences of FlightPrep. FlightPrep, Roger Stenbock listed as Authorized Representative, canceled its registration on May 24, 2012. FlightPrep Inc., with Ross Neher listed as Registered Agent and President, filed its Articles of Incorporation May 24, 2012.

“Stenbock & Everson Inc. (S&E) was dissolved in 2012. It was the company that had been in business for many years that people knew as FlightPrep,” said Ross Neher. “FlightPrep Inc. was formed to serve the aviation community and prior customers of S&E with database updates and software for planning and in-flight EFB use.”

FlightPrep is a licensee of SD Holdings, LLC for the online planner NavPlan (NavPlan.com), according to Neher, who said the company is under a non-disclosure agreement, so it cannot discuss the details of that license. “Please direct any patent or license questions to SD Holding’s representative Peter Haas,” he said in an email.

“Thank you for contacting me on the above matter,” Haas replied via email. “As we are in litigation, I’m afraid I can only tell you ‘no comment’.”

“AOPA categorically denies the allegations of patent infringement, as well as the validity of the patents, and AOPA intends to defend itself vigorously,” stated Ken Mead, AOPA’s general counsel. “It is a shame that AOPA must expend valuable resources to defend ourselves against these meritless accusations. Like others before us that have had to fight similar accusations related to this same series of patents, we are providing valuable flight planning tools to the community that help keep general aviation safe, affordable and fun.”

In 2011, FlightPrep settled a similar patent infringement lawsuit with RunwayFinder.com, which has since shut down. At the same time, it was reported that FlightPrep had contacted FltPlan.com, Jeppesen, AOPA, and FlightAware for “confidential discussions.” The companies all declined.

Comments

  1. What do you expect in a country run by Muslim-Communists?

    FlyQ is fantastic, I have the iPad mini, in my Cherokee, and it worked great, on the thirty-day trial. They require a subscription of at least $70, to keep it running.

    Too much money for this retired working man! I use Garmin instead, which has lower pricing with optional plans.

    I was always faithful to AOPA, on principle, but our tanked economy meant I had to bow out of the organization.

    There’s a big inequity in pay checks, nowadays. Workers get minimum wage, and no benefits, and under 30 hours a week, while police and public-sector people get ten times as much wage, plush benefits , and a free lifelong ride, with their retirements.

    Frivolous lawsuits are the sign of the times. We have sacred Muslims, sacred immigrants, and the politically incorrect. My little town is paying nearly a million dollars for a troublesome, unruly, partying, immigrant who resisted arrest and was mistakenly shot instead of tasered. My property tax is burdensome to me, but it will just pay for more immigrants to come here, and have unruly celebrations, while stepping on our toes.

    Many, working for the public sector, can ignore the problematic, and enjoy their lavish lifestyles, while the rest of America dies on the vine!

    I don’t miss the AOPA much! They never helped with affordable fuel, (Mogas), they just wanted to keep tetra ethyl lead in their Bonanza “go juice”. What good was that doing me?

    The lawyers in California have admittiingly been suing FBO’s for selling leaded gas, just for money made available to them under state environmental law!

    Will GA survive? Will the country even survive? We workers are a bunch of dead starving rats, after we take the bait for Obama’s mousetrap, the un-”affordable health care act”.

    • Mack, what do you really thing? :)
      I am very sad about your experience with FlyQ although not totally surprised that the AOPA would give no hint on their website about the Free only being a trail. Maybe they tell you as you try to download it. I hate that trickery. If someone offers a “Free Trial” and then wants my credit card, I just say GoodBye! Too many times I found that they do not make it easy for you to cancel. Sometimes it is hidden. Not sure about what the AOPA does on this but I recently cancelled my “Legal” advice subscription as it was of little value. Everytime I had a question they just referred me to a list of attorneys for a “Free” 30 minute consult. Which is free anyway and the list is available on line under each state for the Bar Association. It is tough times for the AOPA and they are competing with companies that were previously advertisers, i.e. Insurance and aircraft brokers and aircraft financing. Interesting times. This is not an unusual thing either. Amazon will watch what items are selling well from their Private sellers and then make a deal with the mfg and sell the same products at a huge discount. They use these private sellers to do their test marketing. It is dog eat dog you must not ever stop moving or you will be castrated for sure.

    • You do realize that your overheated rhetoric actually hurts your argument, don’t you?

      • Private Rely to Jack T. (Anonymous) I hate it when people hide themselves. I accept your point of view and there are no hard feelings on my part. These blogs are “Speak your mind” and sometimes my mind goes down that Rhetorical path. I should watch out for that, I agree.

        I liken the Anonymous (not saying this is you of course) bloggers to the bully kid at the back of the class room blowing spit balls at the heads of kids who are sitting up front, trying to learn and participate in class.

    • Mary Ellen Crowley says:

      Mack, why are you blaming the public sector for what the private sector pays it’s workers? Blame the corporations and Wall Street for, “Workers get minimum wage, and no benefits, and under 30 hours a week”, instead of immigrants, muslims and Obama. You can, however, blame the government for a piss poor education that didn’t teach you how to reason.

  2. AOPA Please fight this — if you read their patent google maps violates it, but they are not stupid enough to go after Google. Since the patents were granted to a company at a time when others were already doing it, adding the type of vehicle doesn’t constitute a patentable concept. The algorithm could be patented for finding the optimal rout while avoiding certain airspaces but that isn’t the case. Also one is very specific in the use of GIF images, if AOPA’s system doesn’t generate GIF images then they have no standing on one of the patents. Though the larger issue is the stupid technology patents that the US Patent office issues, these two patents do not hold water with anyone that understands technology. They have shut down several smaller companies offering great services that are much better than Flightprep. And don’t let the corporations fool you Flight Prep is the owner of the patents they just didn’t want the bad publicity like they got in the other cases. Flightprep got a lot of bad press when they sued RunwayFinder so they are now doing it under the other LLC. AOPA BTW contact the the Electronic Frontier Foundation they have a project busting these worthless patents.

    • https://www.eff.org/patent-busting link to the Electronic Frontier Foundation

    • It would seem that in the modern age that the concept of the patent is a bit out dated. How do you patent a software algorithm that is easily developed by numerous independent sources. Any time you are looking for a similiar result you are naturally going to come up with a similiar solution. Whats is next, patent the algorithm for calculating a square root ? and get a license fee from every calculator in the world. It is just fodder for the lawyers and guess what, almost all the people making our laws these days are lawyers. What other industry gets to sit back and create its own market at the peoples expense. Just remember that in any lawsuit, the only winners are the lawyers.

  3. Montana+grass strip+super cub+throwing all the electronic crap in the garbage= happiness!

  4. I sometimes have discussions with people that are mad at AOPA because they have a wine club or don’t support the little airplanes, and complain about “slick mags with jets on the cover” AOPA has lost it’s way and doesn’t look out for the little guy on and on.

    Then someone complains when AOPA provides a really good weather and flight planning tool to their members at no additional cost other than a basic membership.

    I just don’t get it.

  5. A change in the tort laws to “loser pays” would stop most of this nonsense. By this I mean the loser has to pay the legal expenses of the other party. So if AOPA won the lawsuit this other company would have to pay. In this way frivolous lawsuits would not even be filed.
    But it would take an act of Congress to change things and we all know that isn’t going to happen!

  6. I guess this is one way to extort money ! By this article, they seem to have a habit of chasing many companies around for $.

  7. I have always wondered why AOPA is competing against ForeFlight, WingX, the similar Garmin product, etc. Is this a core competency we are looking for with an aviation association? Does AOPA need to pay to have full time programmers and software developers on staff ?

    If this is a benefit that the members truly want from AOPA, it seems like a situation where the association should negotiate a group discount with a private company that does this full time, rather than develop their own. Development of an EFB or in flight MFD product is an example of something that is best privatized.

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually, AOPA *did* negotiate with a private company – Seattle Avionics – for the FlyQ software. It’s a repackaging of various Seattle Avionics products (such as Voyager) for the AOPA members. AOPA has done the same thing previously with Jeppesen online flight software. So, the development (at least) is “privatized.”

      It sounds like the previous Stenbock & Everson company reorganized themself to protect them from the fallout from these lawsuits. By transferring the patents to an LLC holding company, they can have lawsuits brought by a third party rather than themselves. Additionally, because they have to obtain their own license now for the patents that they transferred, they can say that their license prohibits discussion with outside parties!

      The only good thing out of this is that this lawsuit is finally against a “big guy” not the little mom-and-pop shops that FlightPrep was leaning on before. Maybe this time the lawsuit will actually go forward and AOPA can push for a patent office rehearing to invalidate this patents. This is *important* because FlightPrep/SD Holdings when they license their “patented technology” only give you the legal right to keep doing your own software — they don’t actually give you the source code and techniques that they claim implement their patent! Thus, this patent ONLY restricts the market – it does NOT spread technology to the consumer — which was what patents were supposed to do. Yet more proof that our patent system is broken.

    • You have a point.

      • Confused: If FlyQ is free (it is) then it seems that there are no damages and AOPA would just pull the FREE app off the market. I don’t think there are any punitive damages here. The attorney’s would just go away.
        I have associates who have litigated or investigated litigating such patent infringements. The legal fees start at $1 million and go up. If Joseph is correct, then it is unlikely that FlightPrep has the money to take this to a real battle and AOPA would be really crazy to fight this especially if it does not generate revenues.
        I suggest they are bluffing or blackmailing (perspective). On the other hand, there are companies that do buy patent rights for the sole purpose to litigate. But usually they are only interested if they think there are some deep pockets. AOPA may have deep pockets but with no damages, it seems very odd they would spend the money.

        • Anonymous says:

          Why don’t you think there could be damages with a “free” product? The point is that FlightPrep thinks that *they* are losing business by someone else having a product that people would rather use than FlightPrep’s products. The damages are what FlightPrep perceives, not what it costs AOPA to provide the allegedly infringing product.

          Also, simply pulling the app off the market doesn’t make the attorneys “go away.” If FlightPrep can prove patent infringement, they can demand punitive damages for all the time the supposedly infringing app has been on the market cutting into their market share.

          Legal fees are a lot cheaper if you are a lawyer prosecuting the case yourself. One of the original FlightPrep principals was a lawyer and handled some of the casework filing himself. Presumably the SD Holdings will be able to keep up litigations with their in-house staff without incurring expensive outside legal departments — that’s where the cost starts going up fast.

          I still think all pilots would be better off if AOPA could defeat this specific patent and free up the flight planning market for true competition, not this judicial-based competition.

          • Some good points you make…I have no idea really. I bet their attorneys are about as clueless too. The law is not absolute and so much depends on the judge in these cases as we have seen with Apple and Samsung.

            If you are an attorney, you still cannot represent your own corporation. You can defend yourself personally. I think that applies to both sides of the case. I don’t think this is a fee vs fee decision anyway. It is a business decision. What solution will give the least cost. If the AOPA does this for revenge or to prove a point or to break this hold for others, I think they should fire the new President. MONEY is all that matters in these situations.

            It is very hard to prove loss of sales and this is one of the reasons that this gets to be very expensive as you have to hire some very expensive experts to both make a case and defend it. There are reasonable limits the judge can apply. Say you are the patent holder, your business is ok but not doing that well. You see that AOPA is in possible violation. Do you let that go 5-10 years? one year? I am not aware of the specific law here but it seems like you have to tell the offender as soon as you discover the infringement and if you don’t the judge could rule against you just for that reason alone. Patent infringment is usually a process. Step 1: Inform the offender and tell them to stop selling the product. If they do, fine, else go to Step 2. There are guidelines for this, just don’t know as not a patent attorney.

            I think you meant to say that AOPA should defeat this so others will be free to compete with AOPA. If I were Foreflight, it would make my day to know that the AOPA is going to take this to court. Why would AOPA do that for an app that may or may not be profitable? I have no idea as to how many paying subscribers they have. Again, it comes down to MONEY. It may be that several companies, who are being sued, will try to combine their defense to gang up on them.

            The one thing I do know is this. I will not be asked for legal advice on this. The other thing I know is that both sides think they are right but only one going to win.

            One last issue. If AOPA paid or bought this software from someone, they could hide behind that connection as the developer would be held responsible in part if not all. Depends on the contract between AOPA and the developer. Most contract have hold harmless clauses to prevent such suits going through the developer to their client as how would AOPA know that the developer was using something that was patented. Just saying maybe that is a road for AOPA.

  8. By the way, in my opinion, legal actions like this is not the result of lawyers, it is a result of Government regulators in the patent office. They have set up this litigious environment. Attorneys are just taking the opportunity presented to them on a silver plate. GA has been under attack from the TSA, EPA, FAA, DOT, Insurance Commissions and now the Patent Office. It is a jungle out there for sure.

  9. Too bad. This sounds like a company that buys rather worthless patents for the sole purpose of a legal battle. It is great to say you will fight but in reality, giving in is going to cost less even if you win. Especially, if this software is not making any money for the AOPA. Do we need FlyQ? Really? Being right is not alway wise.
    What do others suggest the AOPA do? Curious.

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