Passengers aboard a business aircraft, using SmartSKy's IFC service via their tablets

SmartSky unfazed as Gogo challenges validity of mesh network patent


Gogo Business Aviation is challenging the validity of a SmartSky Networks patent, specifically Patent 9312947, which covers a terrestrial based high-speed data communications mesh network.

In an inter partes review (IPR) filing, Gogo alleges that certain claimed features of the patent are present in prior art, and that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) did not consider the prior art before issuing the patent to SmartSky. It challenges 20 claims of the patent, citing a variety of prior publications, including from IEEE.

For example, states the Gogo filing, the figures and text of SmartSky’s patent application “do not depict or describe software defined radios for beamforming or multiple reuses of a same frequency as recited in each of challenged claims 1-20” of the patent.

Gogo’s filing is certainly a dense document, but SmartSky remains unfazed. Company president Ryan Stone told RGN in a statement:

SmartSky has developed, demonstrated, and is deploying a game-changing air-to-ground (ATG) network. Creating a 10x or better inflight connectivity experience required substantial innovation, as evident by SmartSky being granted, both domestically and internationally, over 150 patents along with nearly an additional 100 pending.

Simply put, this IPR filing is effectively an admission by Gogo that validates SmartSky’s longstanding position that our intellectual property is absolutely critical to the essential function of a next generation ATG network.

Specifically, from our deep portfolio they are challenging a single patent covering the use of software defined radios for beamforming to deliver continuous and uninterrupted high speed data communication to aircraft.

We have conducted a preliminary review of the Gogo filing and are highly confident the USPTO will not reverse its prior grant of this patent that resulted from its extensive, three-year long examination process.

Not unlike Astronics, perhaps, SmartSky has long vowed to defend its extensive patent portfolio.

In a spring 2019 interview with RGN, Stone noted that the patents secured by SmartSky at that time would ensure the company can make a network function properly in the unlicensed band, including in areas of dense urban population where there is high wifi noise. That is technology “that Gogo doesn’t have”, he suggested.

With specific regard to SmartSky’s patent portfolio, Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne told RGN at the time:

We are very comfortable with our position and the technology we have and do not feel that they have any patents that apply to us and are valid.

Gogo, in its IPR filing, said it believes there is a “reasonable likelihood” it will prevail on at least one of the challenged claims if not all. The company is gearing up to roll out its nextgen ATG system in 2021.

In a statement issued today, Gogo Business Aviation president Sergio Aguirre said: “We strongly believe that the ‘947 patent granted to SmartSky is not valid. We have submitted evidence of published materials clearly showing that well before SmartSky asserts to have invented the concepts in the ‘947 patent, others had conceived of the claimed subject matter. Further, we believe there are many of SmartSky’s patents that are not valid. This is only one of many patents we could have challenged in a patent review.”

SmartSky, meanwhile, will submit a formal response to the USPTO within the next three months. “Based on the IPR process and the merits of our response, we expect a favorable decision 3-15 months later that will maintain the validity of SmartSky’s patent,” said Stone.

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