High flying patent infringement. Garmin v. uAvionix

High flying patent infringement. Garmin v. uAvionix

The aviation industry is a perplexing industry when it comes to patents.  The Federal Aviation Administration which strictly regulates the components of airplanes.  The process of getting a new model of airplane approved for use by the public is much more difficult than getting something like a car approved.  Because it is so difficult to get new airplane designs approved, it is common for airplanes to kept in service as long as possible.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration the average age of aircraft flying in the United States is 12 years old.  For general aviation aircraft in the United States, that is small aircraft flown by individuals, is average age is 35 years old.  Compare the average age of general aviation aircraft to the 4.5 year average life of a cellphone.  The rights associated with a patent last 20 years from the date of the earliest application filing date.

Because airplanes have such a long average life, developing a patent for an invention for the aviation industry must be done thoughtfully.  The long life of aviation hardware means that patent owners might make only one sale to each customer before the patent expires compared to a cellphone company could potentially make four or more sales before the patent expires.

When an inventor perfects a new invention the can apply for a patent by filing a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office will review a patent application to determine if the invention meets the criteria for a patent to be granted.  The process of reviewing a patent application is known as patent prosecution.  If the invention is determined to be new, useful and not obvious than the patent application will be granted.  The owner of the patent is granted the exclusive right to use the patent in the United States, if someone other than the patent owner makes, uses, or sells the patent in the United States that can be considered patent infringement.

When the Federal Aviation Administration makes a change to its regulations, there is typically a flurry of patent filings to protect inventions related to the change in regulations.  An example of a recent change in Federal Aviation Administration regulations is Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast or ADS-B.  ADS-B transmits the global positioning system coordinates of a plane with a new level of precision.  ADS-B brings a much-needed modernization to the aviation industry, especially for the general aviation sector, by bringing precise aircraft location information to both air traffic controllers and other airplanes.  Because of the benefits of ADS-B, the Federal Aviation Administration will require most aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B Out by January 1, 2020.  This new regulation means that at least 100,000 airplanes in the United States will have to be equipped with a new piece of technology to comply with the regulations.  It is an aviation industry gold rush.

GARMIN INTERNATIONAL, INC. v. UAVIONIX, CORP.,  9:18-cv-00112 (D.C. MT 2018) is a patent infringement case related to the new ADS-B regulation.  Garmin is a leading manufacturer of aircraft electronics.  Garmin owns  U.S. Patent No. 8,102,301 which relates to an invention that makes it relatively easy and inexpensive to retrofit an older airplane with an ADS-B device. Garmin claims that it and uAvionix had been partners in the past and that during the course of the partnership uAvionix copied Garmin’s patented invention.  uAvionix told Garmin that it had developed a similar ADS-B device which was different enough to not infringe on Garmin’s patent.  Garmin reverse engineered uAvionix’s competing device and feels that the device still infringes.

Garmin’s complaint carefully outlines how uAvionix’s device works and claims that uAvionix’s device infringes on claim 6 of the ‘301 patent but does not go into detail as to how the claim is infringed.  This may be a drafting style choice, but Garmin could have made it easier for the court to understand how their patent is infringed by providing a side by side comparison of the claims of the patent next to the features of uAvionix’s device.  It will be interesting to see how uAvionix answers the complaint.

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