As a (mobile) SW developer and technologist, the state of the US Patent Office and its process has been and is a concern. In the past I’ve been vocal about this:
As (mobile) technologists we must be aware of and recognize the potential for harm when obvious/weak-patents are granted by the Patent Office. We should be able to trust the patent system, but the system is weak.
Yesterday I read about RunwayFinder vs. FlightPrep (Stenbock & Everson) and it caught my eye, thus decided to do a quick analysis.
I am no lawyer but when you align the facts, which is not a hard thing to do, you can start to see patterns, such as potential patent-trolling or using the USA patent program as currently implemented to allow for weak and/or obvious patents and prevent others from providing access to innovation.
RunwayFinder vs. FlightPrep (Stenbock & Everson) Timeline
0) There is a patent application 09919672 Filed on Jul. 2001 that is referred to by patent 7640098 (their only granted patent). The 672 patent has no “Patent Number” and no “Issue Date”. It is not clear that the 672 has been granted. The 672 I can’t find;
1) On September 28, 2005, “Stenbock & Everson” owners of FlightPrep filed 7640098 titled “Process for generating travel plans on the internet.” This is a divisional patent. The 098 patent has been granted. It makes reference to patent application number 09919672 (Jul 2001) that cannot be found;
2) Also on September 28, 2005, “Stenbock & Everson” filed 20060031006 titled “Process for generating computer flight plans on the internet”, and got revised on February 9, 2006. The 006 has not been not granted;
3) I tried to confirm if the patent 672 is granted or not. Searching for 09919672 on the granted patents DB returns NOTHING. But searching on the Patent Applications (that is, patents filed but not granted) returns ONE patent application: 20060031006 (and not 09919672). That is strange as the 006 makes no mention of the 672 within but are associated somehow;
4) November 10, 2009, patent 20100217520 is filed. Titled “Process For Generating Computer Flight Plans on the Internet” (see similar name); the 520 has not been granted at this point. Very likely 7640098 will be used as a precedent to get this one granted, while getting the opportunity to “fix” any weaknesses on the original patent applications;
5) Nov 3, 2010, an article/announcement on US Fed News Service is published “US Patent Issued to Stenbock & Everson on Dec. 29 for “Process for Generating Travel Plans on the Internet” (Oregon Inventors)”;
6) On Dec 9, 2010, some days later, “RunwayFinder is now offline”.
Now, I am not sure what claims and filing date is FlightPrep is using against RunwayFinder, but when you combine the facts above and the observations below some things come out as odd
, in this particular case, it seems the US PTO process was exploited for patent-trolling purposes:
0) The idea of “Process for generating travel plans on the internet”, in 2005, may not be unique enough. Note RunwayFinder was started in 2005;
1) Seems “Stenbock & Everson” exploited the divisional patent as a loophole for 7640098 to leverage the priority and filing date of 09919672 of 2001. Can someone help verify this? Was the divisional “legit” or intended to workaround the system?
2) How quick it went from step #5 (announcement of patent granted) to #6 (forcing competitors out of business).
FlightPrep claims they offered RunWayFinder a temporary license while they negotiate things, but I understand RunWayFinder position of shutting down if threaten with a ~$3M lawsuit while “negotiating”.
You can read about RunwayFinder now offline (RunwayFinder blog)
Regarding RunwayFinder shutting down (FlightPrep website)
In the end, mainly the companies with deeper pockets are the major beneficiaries of the current US PTO patent process and the US PTO process can be exploited in ways it should not. Lets not forget where innovation and many of the jobs are coming from today — small tech startups. And patent trolling is evil.
“Stenbock & Everson” Patent History (USPTO) as of Dec 15, 2010
7640098 Process for generating travel plans on the internet
Filed September 28, 2005 Revised: December 29, 2009
Divisional patent related to 09919672
09919672 | Jul., 2001 | No patent # | No issue Date
Primary Examiner: To; Tuan C
Attorney, Agent or Firm: Ipsolon LLP
20100217520 Process For Generating Computer Flight Plans on the Internet
Filed: November 10, 2009 | Revised: August 26, 2010
20060031006 Process for generating computer flight plans on the internet
Filed: September 28, 2005 | Revised: February 9, 2006
Related to this see Runway Finder Is Going to Fight The FlightPrep Patent and Lawsuit (Aviation Blogs).