As a long time software engineer, patent holder, and the founder and CEO of Coradine, where our whole business is aviation software, the recent shut down of Runway Finder has left me concerned and troubled. In our rapidly evolving world, technology plays an ever growing role. At the same time, it moves so fast that it seems to often out pace our understanding let alone the policies and procedures that government and society have tried to put in place as tools to protect innovation. Inventors should have the right to protect their invention, but especially when it comes to software, this can be anything but black and white.
There are pros and cons to patents in general as you can read in the rationale section of the Wikepedia entry on patents. From a business perspective it’s reasonable to argue that without some sort of guarantee that your idea won’t be immediately copied when brought to market companies and individuals would be likely to keep their inventions as secret as possible and/or simply be less likely to invest in research and development at all. This could lead to great inventions never reaching the public, or never being invented at all which is clearly not great. But it’s a really big world, and some things seem to require the ever scarce “common sense”. The exceptionally lengthy patent application process can take years, for obvious reasons, but this only serves to aggravate the issue.
It’s a pretty safe bet more than one person invented a chair around the same time in different parts of the world. While it may be good for your business if you could prevent anyone else from making chairs, there’s no reasonable person that would consider it fair to coerce everyone else making chairs to pay you for the right of selling what they make just because it’s similar to yours; particularly when it’s clear they didn’t steal your design. The internet has made the world smaller, but with the advent of the nearly ubiquitous high speed network access and web technologies, and the plethora of information available it’s perfectly logical to use it for all manner of aviation tasks, such as say, flight planning. Patents are intended to protect specific innovations; using them as a business weapon to try and strong arm your competition based on overly broad, generalized concepts seems like a clear sign of a fear that you cannot compete. It’s even harder for a citizen to look the other way when this comes at a time when multiple companies have been providing similar services for years. To add insult to injury, it seems that in the case of FlightPrep and their broad patent relating to seemingly any flight planning system that gets information over the internet, it’s only the giant organizations like Jeppesen that have the resources to defend themselves legally that have the option to ignore the letters demanding license fees. The smaller developers, or in my opinion, the innovators, are forced to shut down because they cannot put up millions of dollars to defend themselves from an organization who has been given the “legal” right to stop them from working on their inventions.
Competition breeds excellence. Embrace it, and let the best technology win. Never stop innovating, and you will succeed.
Founder and CEO, Coradine