Garmin and uAvionix Prepare to Tangle in Court

The lawsuit looks to turn into a he-said, she-said kind of litigation. Pexels

Details have emerged of a lawsuit filed in Montana on June 19 by Garmin International Inc. and Garmin USA Inc. against uAvionix in which the Olathe, Kansas avionics giant claims the upstart Bigfork, Montana-based micro-miniaturization experts used a Garmin patent without permission when they created some uAvionix retail product offerings. Specifically, Garmin alleges the uAvionix echoUAT and skyBeacon's method of obtaining an installed transponder's Mode 3/A code and altitude infringes upon Garmin's U.S. Patent No. 8,102,301 ("the 301 Patent") used in Garmin's GDL-82, GDL-84 and GDL-88 systems.

Garmin said in the complaint that between 2016 and 2017, "the relationship between Garmin and uAvionix began with discussions related to drones. Over time those discussions changed and Garmin eventually learned that uAvionix had taken its patented ADS-B technology without permission." Garmin claims uAvionix has also sold new equipment using Garmin's 301 patent technology. uAvionix first burst in to the aviation marketplace a few years ago when it created tiny ADS-B solutions for the UAV marketplace where weight is measured in grams, not pounds. The company is also responsible for creating both the Scout and Sentry ADS-B receivers currently marketed by Foreflight.

While neither company would discuss details of the lawsuit, uAvionix said in a statement that the company did not infringe upon Garmin's patent, adding the company recognizes that disruptive products often attract unwanted attention from incumbents. A uAvionix spokesman told Flying Wednesday, "We're disappointed that given a choice to innovate or litigate, Garmin chose the latter. This [lawsuit] has no impact on our ability to certify and ship any of our products, including skyBeacon and tailBeacon."

Comparing products from the two companies, Garmin’s GDL-82 for example, offers some similar capabilities to the skyBeacon, but is physically much larger than any uAvionix product. The GDL-82 weighs approximately 1.25 pounds, the skyBeacon 90 grams. uAvionix ADS-B unit can be installed in minutes with just a screwdriver, while a complete installation of the GDL-82 involves some ground technician labor to make the Garmin unit work with an aircraft’s transponder. The GDL-82 retails for $1,795 vs. the SkyBeacon at $1,849.

In the uAvionix’s statement, the company also said, “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.”

Although the technologies used in the skyBeacon are individually TSOed, the complete new wingtip ADS-B solution has not yet been given that FAA authorization. uAvionix said all the skyBeacon’s paperwork and technical data needed to prove the new receiver meets the agency’s standards for a TSO designation were delivered to the FAA weeks ago.

uAvionix said it expects to meet its promise of delivering a TSOed skyBeacon by next month.

Rob MarkAuthor
Rob Mark is an award-winning journalist, business jet pilot, flight instructor, and blogger.

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