AATI Sues Boeing and Insitu for Willful Infringement of Patents for UAV Retrieval System
ST. LOUIS, MO – FEBRUARY 14, 2012 – Advanced Aerospace Technologies, Inc., (AATI) has filed a lawsuit against The Boeing Company and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Insitu, Inc., seeking in excess of $160 million in royalties based on infringement of AATI patents by Insitu’s Skyhook retrieval system – which is the device Boeing and Insitu employ to retrieve unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) without a runway at the end of a flight. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
AATI is owned by William Randall McDonnell, an aeronautical engineer and member of the McDonnell family of aviation pioneers who founded McDonnell Aircraft. As described in papers AATI filed with the court, Mr. McDonnell invented a retrieval system using a “swept” wing with a special hook and clasp at the end which enables UAVs returning from a mission to be safely retrieved without a runway by flying into a suspended line. The hook grabs the line and channels it to a clasp which holds the UAV securely and enables it to be lowered into the hands of operators without damage. Combined with an appropriate launch mechanism, this approach eliminates the weight, volume, cost and complexity of runway-dependent aircraft hardware – such as wheels, tires, brakes, nose wheel steering, landing gear struts, landing gear doors, extend/retract actuators and wheel wells.
AATI alleges that Insitu was unable to retrieve its UAVs without damaging them – and that this inability was threatening the financial viability of Insitu’s UAV program and the company itself. To solve this problem, Mr. McDonnell provided his patented technology to Insitu – and Insitu incorporated it into its various unmanned aircraft systems, including: ScanEagle, NightEagle, Insight, GeoRanger, ScanEagle Compressed Carriage, and Integrator. Incorporation of the AATI patented inventions into these unmanned aircraft systems was enormously successful – enabling Insitu and Boeing to come to dominate their segment of the UAV market.
According to AATI, Insitu and Boeing misappropriated AATI’s patented inventions and Insitu’s unmanned aircraft systems infringe AATI’s patents. Insitu and Boeing have never paid any royalties or other amounts to AATI for their use of the AATI inventions.
In addition to the lawsuit filed against Insitu and Boeing in St. Louis, AATI also has filed a companion lawsuit against the U.S. Government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. Most of Insitu’s and Boeing’s revenues from the unmanned aerial systems in question have been generated from the sale of services – where Boeing and/or Insitu own and operate the UAVs and sell surveillance and reconnaissance services to the U.S. Government and foreign governments. The St. Louis lawsuit seeks royalties based on this business and commercial sales.
In some instances, Insitu or Boeing apparently sold the unmanned aerial systems to the U.S. Government. Under applicable laws, AATI must obtain from the U.S. Government any royalties due on sales of hardware to the U.S. Government to whatever extent that it can be shown that, in accepting such hardware, the Government authorized and consented to the infringement. The Government then gets reimbursed by Insitu and Boeing pursuant to an indemnification obligation under those Government contracts. The lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims is for any royalties that can be recovered only through this route.
In filing the lawsuits, Mr. McDonnell stated:
“I was pleased my inventions solved Insitu’s inability to safely and reliably retrieve their UAVs at the end of a flight – and enabled the company to become successful. I am greatly disappointed that Insitu, and then Boeing, declined to pay the compensation due for their use of my inventions – and that I now must resort to court action.”
Legal counsel for AATI, Craig King of the Arent Fox law firm, stated:
“These lawsuits are about obtaining due compensation for the AATI inventions that have been incorporated by Insitu and Boeing into the enormously successful Skyhook retrieval system. We have not sought an injunction – and plan no actions as part of these lawsuits that might in any way impair the continued use of the unmanned aerial systems in question. The safety of our war fighters and performance of military missions is of paramount concern to AATI, and neither will be affected by these lawsuits.”
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