The offices at FlightPrep, an Oregon company that received a patent for its online flight planning software, have been inundated in the last few days with calls and e-mails from concerned GA pilots who are angry that one of their favorite websites, RunwayFinder.com, has been shut down because FlightPrep is trying to enforce its patent.
Shutting the website down is not what the folks at FlightPrep want to do. They also didn’t want to file a lawsuit against RunwayFinder.com and its developer, Dave Parsons. But after phones calls and registered letters failed to get any response, a lawsuit was the next step. “How else can you get someone’s attention?” asked Ross Neher, FlightPrep’s general manager and vice president.
Despite FlightPrep’s offer to provide RunwayFinder a free license during negotiations for “a constructive resolution to our dispute,” RunwayFinder.com was shut down late Monday evening, with Parsons blogging that: “I was hoping to be able to work out an agreement with FlightPrep where the lawsuit against RunwayFinder would be withdrawn and the website could stay online in return for some free advertising and removal of this entire blog post. FlightPrep has instead decided to keep the lawsuit active, so unfortunately RunwayFinder must be shut down. FlightPrep has posted some sort of temporary license on their website instead of contacting me directly, but unfortunately does not provide relief from their claimed damages. From FlightPrep’s attorney’s letter of Dec. 9: “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.” Shutting down RunwayFinder is not an admission of infringement or validity of the FlightPrep patent, Parson’s blog concludes.
Parsons did not respond to e-mailed questions before press time Tuesday.
FlightPrep officials didn’t want to try its case in the court of public opinion, but find themselves doing just, according to Neher. In a release sent out Tuesday, FlightPrep officials say: “Mr. Parson’s response was to elect to try this case in the court of public opinion instead of employing professional and good faith business practices. Since this technique is counterproductive, we did not care to participate. Yet, we find we must respond to news reports and RunwayFinder’s blog posts containing several distortions and outright false statements about FlightPrep, its employees, representatives, technology, and motives. This latest move of RunwayFinder, electing to shut down its website, is another example of an attempt to inflame the pilot community.”
The controversy has gotten a lot of attention on pilot forums and blogs, with many calling FlightPrep greedy, likening the fight to David vs. Goliath. “People see this as the big guy vs. the little guy, but we’re not a big company,” Neher said. “Having to file a lawsuit is not something that I wanted my small business to have to do.”
This is the only lawsuit FlightPrep has filed in regards to the patent, Neher said, noting that an agreement was easily reached with its first licensee, SkyVector. Other agreements are in negotiations, Neher said.
In Tuesday’s news release, FlightPrep officials concede that “some in the pilot community are of the opinion that patents are unfair and should not be granted for software. We doubt we can change their minds with this news release. However, the fact is many patents are issued for software inventions every year. Without them inventors would have little incentive to advance state-of-the-art technologies. Applying for patents and seeking royalties are normal and sound business practices and are done by virtually all successful technology businesses, large or small.”
FlightPrep is currently in negotiations with other companies to license its flight planning software and are still amenable to working out something with RunwayFinder. “We do not want to shut anybody down,” Neher said. “We want this to be a tool.”
In fact, Neher praised RunwayFinder.com and its beta site. “We want him to continue working on his beta site,” he said. “It’s a really neat site.”
Neher said the two companies could reach a “viable agreement,” noting that a “viable agreement” doesn’t necessarily include Parsons paying to license the patented flight planning software. “We are agreeable to discussing ways to license our technology that won’t cost his business anything,” Neher said, noting it could be something along the lines of sponsorship or marketing. “There are other possibilities besides financial.”