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Garmin files suit against uAvionix

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A quick read seems to show that Garmin is claiming he ability to read a transponder squawk code, either by a wire or wirelessly, is their proprietary intellectual property.  That seems a pretty hard claim to enforce, since a transponder is a radio transceiver *designed* to send a readable signal to another receiver.  If this were truly an infringement, wouldn't Garmin also have a case against every 1090 ground station and mode S transponder manufacturer, since they also receive and decode the transponder transmission wirelessly?

This seems like Garmin is trying to knock out lower priced competitors with lawyers instead of by making compelling products.  If this suits succeeds, nobody could produce a low cost ADS-B product to compete with the GDL-82/84 units, because they would not be able to read the airplane's own squawk code and set it automatically on their ADS-B unit.  You'd HAVE to set squawk in two places, unless you bought Garmin.

If this suit succeeds, I think I'd rather set squawk twice rather than pay for Garmin's more expensive units and fund their anti-competitive practices.  I'm a huge Garmin Pilot fan, but now I'm considering dropping it in favor of something else.

 

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I just read the patent referenced by Garmin.  Basically, it claims IP ownership over any system that reads the aircraft's own transponder information and does anything with that information to reduce pilot workload (like entering the squawk code again).  That seems awfully broad to me; I don't understand how you can patent the idea of receiving and processing radio signals, since that technology has been around over a hundred years.  But I guess the court will decide, unless uAvionix settles with Garmin in some way. 

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Yeah, it is really an issue with the original patent that was somehow granted to Garmin. As for validity of such simply patent , consider this - the company I used to work for ( a rather large company) wa taken to the court by a competitor that claimed that we infringed on their patent by designing an interface where an user could enter a zip code to find the corresponding TV programming within their area. Obviously using a zip code is not really something that you can patent but using it for the the specific purpose ( in this case identifying what’s available on your TV) was very much in play. We lost the case and had  to design a google maps based interface so users can graphically point where they are ( thus allowing us to derive the zip code ) 

Pure insanity.

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1 hour ago, FlyingMonkey said:

If this suit succeeds, I think I'd rather set squawk twice rather than pay for Garmin's more expensive units and fund their anti-competitive practices.  I'm a huge Garmin Pilot fan, but now I'm considering dropping it in favor of something else.

Not an option -- the draft ADS-B standard allowed for dual entry but the final rule requires single entry.  Hence the race for auto squawk.

Also, we can bemoan that Garmin was able to patent a specific use of transponder output but the fact is things like that ARE patentable and it looks like Garmin beat everyone else to the punch.  It also looks like Garmin and uAvionix held discussions where they may have learned of the usage and agreed to 'design' around the patent.  Garmin claims the before and after designs were identical.  If true, uAvionix has to go back to the drawing board or license the auto squawk technology/process.

Given that damages are occurring and are likely to accelerate (from a Garmin perspective) it would not surprise me if the temporary injunction against uAvionix is issued relatively quickly.

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1 hour ago, S3flyer said:

Not an option -- the draft ADS-B standard allowed for dual entry but the final rule requires single entry.  Hence the race for auto squawk.

Also, we can bemoan that Garmin was able to patent a specific use of transponder output but the fact is things like that ARE patentable and it looks like Garmin beat everyone else to the punch.  It also looks like Garmin and uAvionix held discussions where they may have learned of the usage and agreed to 'design' around the patent.  Garmin claims the before and after designs were identical.  If true, uAvionix has to go back to the drawing board or license the auto squawk technology/process.

Given that damages are occurring and are likely to accelerate (from a Garmin perspective) it would not surprise me if the temporary injunction against uAvionix is issued relatively quickly.

If single entry is a legal requirement, then it seems problematic to grant a patent to one company to be able to do it via the most obvious route (getting it from the transponder signal).

I'm not saying the patent is invalid; I'm just saying it's overly broad in this case and patents an obvious use that everybody expected.  I believe "prior art" is the IP term. 

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The actual language is: 

Quote

Describe how to enter the Mode 3/A code, operate the IDENT function, and activate or deactivate emergency status.  If the ADS-B system and transponder do not have a single point of entry for the Mode 3/A code, IDENT, and emergency status, then the flight manual procedures must ensure conflicting information is not transmitted from the ADS-B system and transponder. 

I don't know how a dual entry system could be used without having a few seconds of conflicting information.  This addition was one reason why the gen 1 Skyguard ADS-B out became a boat anchor on 1/1/2020.

'Prior Art' could benefit uAvionics if they can prove the auto squawk was in use or common practice before December 2009.   I think they will have trouble since the ADS-B AC 20-165 was first issued in May 2010.  

Another interesting point in the lawsuit is that Garmin is asking for a jury trial.  This is rarely done in technology IP cases since technology may be too complex for the average citizen to fully grasp.  Garmin must feel the infringement is easy to demonstrate.

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Couldn't prior art refer to common practice of receiving transceiver signals and processing them, not simply in terms of ADS-B?  For example, if I patent a specific example of something that is generally accepted practice in general, doesn't that make it harder to defend the patent?

All of this of course is speculation...we'll find out what happens in due course. 

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I don't think so.  Amongst other things you can patent a technology process which is what this patent looks like.  From the US Patent office (bold added by me):

Quote

.....invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” subject to the conditions and requirements of the law. The word “process” is defined by law as a process, act, or method, and primarily includes industrial or technical processes.

 

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12 hours ago, Warmi said:

Yeah, it is really an issue with the original patent that was somehow granted to Garmin. As for validity of such simply patent , consider this - the company I used to work for ( a rather large company) wa taken to the court by a competitor that claimed that we infringed on their patent by designing an interface where an user could enter a zip code to find the corresponding TV programming within their area. Obviously using a zip code is not really something that you can patent but using it for the the specific purpose ( in this case identifying what’s available on your TV) was very much in play. We lost the case and had  to design a google maps based interface so users can graphically point where they are ( thus allowing us to derive the zip code ) 

Pure insanity.

Lawyers. Go figure.

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8 hours ago, FlyingMonkey said:

All of this of course is speculation...we'll find out what happens in due course. 

Yeah, in the meantime, the ADS-B Out clock is ticking.

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uAvionix Statement on Garmin Lawsuit

On June 19, 2018 Garmin International Inc. and Garmin USA Inc. sued uAvionix for patent infringement.  Garmin alleges the uAvionix echoUAT and skyBeacon’s method of obtaining an installed transponder’s Mode 3/A code and altitude infringes their U.S. Patent No. 8,102,301 (“the 301 Patent”).

We do not infringe the 301 Patent. uAvionix has our own patent-pending method for using Mode 3/A and altitude information that differs from the method in the 301 Patent.  We invite you to see for yourself.

Ultimately the court and industry will decide whether we are innovators or infringers.

We are disappointed and frustrated we have to go through the expense, distraction, and effort of defending ourselves, but also recognize that disruptive products often attract unwanted attention from incumbents.

We won’t be able to comment on the proceedings, and it will likely take some time to resolve.  We just want the world to know that we take Intellectual Property rights seriously.  We are innovators with integrity, and we are defending that integrity.  As pilots, we will fight hard and stand our ground to deliver groundbreaking and innovative products to this market.

We also want to make a clear statement that this suit in no way impacts our ability to certify and ship any of our products – including skyBeacon and tailBeacon.

Thank you for your support and confidence.

The uAvionix Team

P.S.  Our legal team deleted our usual levity from this statement.

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Looks like uAvionix is claiming that receiving transponder information over electrical power lines keeps it clear of Garmin's patent.  Garmin's patent, though, is more focused on the process of using information from a transponder and including this information in an ADS-B data stream -- not the actually acquisition technology. Their patent has examples of how this works but they are clear that data may be acquired using other methods to implement the Garmin invention.

It'll be interesting to following the case

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There are 3 independent claims (1, 6 & 11) in Garmin’s Patent (US8102301B2) each of which describes a system which receives a transmission from the transponder of the aircraft to determine the transponder code and then uses that information, such as to set the ADS-B code.

Uavionix’s patent application (US20180100914A1) has 4 independent claims (1, 10, 17 & 25) each of which describes a system which “reconstructs” the transponder code “based on an induced signal on the power wire”. The code is digital, a sequence of ON and OFF transmissions, the timing of which determines the value. Transmissions require power. Whenever they are ON the aircraft’s bus voltage drops a bit. Uavionix claims to use this voltage drop to determine the transponder code. They are not using the transponder transmission. Instead they are using the power required to generate that transmission. If this is really what they are doing, this does not sound to me like an infringement.

Perhaps the reason Garmin chose a jury trial is to add an element of randomness to the outcome.

Regardless of merit, I think the timing of this lawsuit, coming months before the 2020 mandate and with the NavWorx debacle still fresh in people’s minds, will be devastating for Uavionix and very beneficial to Garmin’s GDL 82 sales.

Mike Koerner

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I have always held Garmin in hight esteem. I hope the CEO steps out of his Ivory Tower and have his a... kissing lawyers do something good to protect the companies image. Getting a patent is a matter of having high priced lawyers have their way with underpaid self serving people at the patent office.

Garmin should be bigger than this. Just saying!

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On 8/23/2018 at 9:00 AM, S3flyer said:

Looks like uAvionix is claiming that receiving transponder information over electrical power lines keeps it clear of Garmin's patent.  Garmin's patent, though, is more focused on the process of using information from a transponder and including this information in an ADS-B data stream -- not the actually acquisition technology. Their patent has examples of how this works but they are clear that data may be acquired using other methods to implement the Garmin invention.

It'll be interesting to following the case

It seems that a patent for "using information from a transponder and including this information in an ADS-B data stream" would be infringed every time ATC encoded transponder information into an ADS-B stream from the ground stations...which is kind of the point of ADS-B!

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3 hours ago, FlyingMonkey said:

It seems that a patent for "using information from a transponder and including this information in an ADS-B data stream" would be infringed every time ATC encoded transponder information into an ADS-B stream from the ground stations...which is kind of the point of ADS-B!

The Garmin patent doesn't look like it would apply here -- my summary of their summary omitted a key term:  "Techniques are described that allow information to be acquired by an ADS-B system of an aircraft.....".   Ground stations appear to be excluded.

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But isn’t transponder info bounced from the ground stations back to airplanes as part of the ADS-B data stream?

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out,  but it seems like Garmin is claiming the sole ability to use transponder data for airplanes to program their ADS-B equipment, which is problematic.

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Dave, Andy,

I'm not a patent attorney, but I do have some experience in this area. ?

The summary section of Garmin's patent has no bearing in their suit against Uavonix. They have to prove Uavonix infringed on at least one of their claims. The claims are grouped with independent claims being the broadest, and then dependent claims building on to each of these. If Uavonix's approach is different than that described in an independent claim, then the subsequent dependent claims are academic as well.

Independent claim 1 of Garmin's 301 patent describes, "receiving ... a transmission from the transponder of the aircraft" and "extracting information from the transmission". Variations in the power into the transponder is not a transmission from it. If Uavonix is really using this input power method of determining the squawk code, then I don't think they are infringing on this claim or its subsequent dependent claims (2-5).

Independent claim 6 again describes receiving, "transmissions from a transponder of the aircraft," and "a processing system operable to cause the information to be extracted from the received transmission". Again, Uavonix claims to be using a different method so the dependent claims (7-10) don't matter either.

Independent claim 11 also describes "a receiver operable to periodically receive a transmission from the transponder" and "a processing system operable to cause the information to be extracted from the received transmission". Once again, Uavonix is claiming to use a different process. The subsequent dependent claims (12-17) also become moot.

That's all the claims there are. I don't believe Garmin has grounds for a suit unless Uavonix is not really using the method described in their patent application. I'm not an EE and frankly I don't even know if the method Uavonix describes is possible. With alternators whirling around sending pulses to the bus, and strobe lights flashing, and CT owners adding big capacitors to their electrical systems - it seems like a long shoot that you could pick out the squawk code from the noise. On the other hand, the squawk pulse sequence maybe at a much higher frequency than these other perturbations and differentiation from noise is one of the advantages of digital transmissions. GPS signals, for example, are fantastically tiny, yet our devices are able to pick them out of the noise.

Where the summary section of Garmin's patent comes into play is in establishing prior art. Though this doesn't help in enforcing the patent, it may keep others from receiving patents which could restrict Garmin's freedom to practice. So, the fact that the Garmin's patent discusses "using information from a transponder and including this information in an ADS-B data stream" may make the Uavonix application null and void. It depends on if the courts find the Uavonix approach "obvious" based on the comments in Garmin's patent. Personally, I think the Uavonix approach is anything but obvious, but this part of patent law is very subjective.

So, you may ask, why didn't Garmin use the phrase "using information from a transponder and including this information in an ADS-B data stream" in one of the independent claims. They probably tried to. The patent office may have found this claim too broad. Perhaps it was already in pratice, as you suggest.

At any rate, whether Uavonix receives a patent or not is academic in this case. You don't need a patent to make a product; you just need it to preclude other people from doing the same thing. In fact, it may be that Uavonix has already given up on their patent. It is very unusual to publicly disclose the details of a patent application before the patent is issued. Then again, as I mentioned earlier, they are in a dire strait. With the 2020 mandate fast approaching they need to convince the public that they will still be in business next year. That means they have to show that Garmin's suit is invalid; and they can't wait for the court system to do that. I think they have achieved this goal, though by a very unorthodox method. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy their products - especially if I was sure they were using the method described in their application. I would welcome the comments of an electrical type, as to whether or not the stated approach sounds viable.

Mike Koerner

 

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Thanks Mike, that is good information!

I see two different types of uAvionix systems.  One, like their new tail beacon, uses wires and that seems to be where they are claiming the electrical pulse technique.  BTW this is not as crazy as it sounds, there are marketed EoP (Ethernet over Power) devices that basically do the same thing by sending induced magnetic pulses over power lines to send network signals where running traditional network cables or receiving WiFi signals is not practical.  I have used them in my house and they work well.

The second unit that seems to be in danger of violating Garmin's patent is the EchoUAT series devices.  This device uses its own dipole antenna to receive transmissions from the aircraft's own transponder antenna, then extracts the squawk code and programs it into the EchoUAT transceiver.  If I'm understanding it correctly, that is directly violating Garmin's patent.

Unfortunately the EchoUAT is the system I was planning to install.  Hopefully the two companies will come to an agreement that doesn't kill that product.  I'm tempted to buy it now, but I'm afraid of ending up with an unsupported, orphan product if uAvionix is forced to stop sales.

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5 minutes ago, FlyingMonkey said:

 

I see two different types of uAvionix systems.  One, like their new tail beacon, uses wires and that seems to be where they are claiming the electrical pulse technique.  BTW this is not as crazy as it sounds, there are marketed EoP (Ethernet over Power) devices that basically do the same thing by sending induced magnetic pulses over power lines to send network signals where running traditional network cables or receiving WiFi signals is not practical.  I have used them in my house and they work well.

Mike -- fantastic analysis.  thanks!

Andy, dang it, you beat me to the keyboard on the EoP ☹️ And this is where I have a different POV on the term 'transmission'.  I believe Garmin will try to establish that receiving transponder information over a powerline is just a different transport mechanism and, hence, would be included in their patent.  Convincing a jury of this will be anybody's guess.

 

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I am sorry, but you may all be wrong.  it may not matter too much what is in the patent, as long as the patent is defensible enough that garmin can drag the suit out long enough to (threaten to) bankrupt uavionix.

patent suits are rarely successful.  most are about getting the player with the smaller pockets to agree to fold.  this is also why few small inventors with real patents on real ideas can use their patents to prevent entry from better capitalized companies.

 

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21 hours ago, iaw4 said:

 

I am sorry, but you may all be wrong.  it may not matter too much what is in the patent, as long as the patent is defensible enough that garmin can drag the suit out long enough to (threaten to) bankrupt uavionix.

patent suits are rarely successful.  most are about getting the player with the smaller pockets to agree to fold.  this is also why few small inventors with real patents on real ideas can use their patents to prevent entry from better capitalized companies.

 

I don't think anybody thought this *wasn't* about bankrupting uAvionix and/or forcing them to capitulate.  I always assumed Garmin would try to crank up the billable hours beyond uAvionix's ability to pay,  The only question is that, if uAvionix manages like Rocky Balboa to go the distance against the odds, who will the judges give the fight to?  :D

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I dunno. I'm probably the only one in this thread that doesn't view this as David vs. Goliath where David is good guy for the sole reason he's smaller.  Garmin is defending their patent which existed considerably before uAvionix was founded.  This may be genuine or could very well be litigation intended to stop or slow a competitor.  There is no way for any of us to know.  The courts must feel there is merit to the case as it's not been thrown out.  Also, there could very well be a recognition that uAvionix has a reasonable chance of success since the injunction has not been granted.

uAvionix is not a mom-n-pop organization.  They've received at least $10M in VC funding from a couple substantial funds.  They will have the means to defend themselves.

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