Liberal Patent Policies May Make Life Difficult For Other Online Flight Planning Providers

According to a recent RunwayFinder statement just issued by Dave Parsons, Founder, RunwayFinder, LLC, A preliminary verbal agreement has been reached. Assuming we can work out the details over the next few days, RunwayFinder will remain online. I appreciate all of the messages of support. Sorry if I’m not able to respond to everybody personally. I’ll update this post as things progress.”

We’re sure that there is far more to this story, and we’re trying to get additional details from both sides of the aisle — stay tuned…

The nation’s love affair with lawsuits is apparently going to cost GA at least one, and probably some other, online flight planning utilities. Runwayfinder.com has announced that it is going offline after being sued by FlightPrep, a competitor that managed to convince the US Patent Office that they owned the rights to much of the technology and methodology used by a number of online flight planning vendors.

Dave Parsons, Founder of RunwayFinder, LLC, has published an explanation of his plight on his highly regarded web site and announced that effective December 10, 2010 at noon Pacific Time, RunwayFinder will be taken offline.

Published Statement — Runway Finder

FlightPrep has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against the RunwayFinder website. Not exactly what I wanted in my stocking this year. I don’t agree that RunwayFinder is infringing or that the patent is even valid, but RF has no money to fight a lengthy legal battle with extremely expensive intellectual property lawyers. FlightPrep sent some vague letters a few months ago saying they wanted me to enter into a non-disclosure agreement. Their tactic is to keep this story from getting out. (see SkyVector.) I’ve tried calling Kyle Everson and Roger Stenbock at their office number 503-678-4360 and emailing them at kyle@flightprep.com , roger@flightprep.com , roger@stenbock.com , and roger.stenbock@gmail.com . They won’t talk to me. Instead I’m stuck dealing with their lawyers who twice said that if RunwayFinder pays a license fee (would you like 10% or 20% of zero?) or removes the website that they will drop the lawsuit. Unfortunately, they are now reneging on that and posturing for more.

Looking over their patent application history, it looks like they had significant trouble getting this one past the U.S. Patent Office, including a “final rejection” notice. However, they modified their claims to include features that were in wide-spread use at the time of the amendment. Additionally, when they initially filed this patent application in September 2005, RunwayFinder was already online along with at least one other aeronautical chart viewing website. It appears they were able to use some slight-of-hand involving divisional patents to set the date back to 2001. It’s unfortunate that the U.S. patent process can be used in this manner to stifle innovation and entrepreneurship. More over, the last thing we as pilots need to be doing is attacking each other in court. We are a small and rapidly shrinking community that is already under siege from every side, user fees, airport closures, increased security requirements, rising fuel prices, just to name a few. I’m crafting a letter now to the patent examiner to invalidate this patent. The process will take too long to save RunwayFinder, but hopefully it helps the other websites out there.

Despite the many challenges over the past 5 years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed providing my fellow pilots and flying enthusiasts with free access to aeronautical charts and pre-flight info. It’s been especially gratifying that I could help out some non-profit groups with free access to the charts, such as the extremely cool Animal Rescue Flights group. However, a project that makes no profit is not worth this new legal hassle.

Thanks to everyone that has supported RunwayFinder over the years, providing encouragement and helpful suggestions. Sorry if I haven’t been able to respond personally to all of your emails over the past several months, but I’ve taken on some new non-aviation projects. I was just starting to get back to working on RunwayFinder, but that obviously won’t be happening now. I’ve considered over the years putting the code for the website into an open source project. Let me know if that sounds interesting to any of you programmers out there.

Please visit my friends at AirNav for airport info and fuel prices, or if you have an iPhone or iPad check out ForeFlight, or if you’re looking for an inexpensive and very cool EFB, take a look at Chartflier from Essential Flight Technology.

FMI: www.runwayfinder.com
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