U.S. District Court Adopts SmartSky Claim Construction Definitions on “Hard” Versus “Soft Handoffs”

Decision Effectively Eliminates Gogo’s Non-Infringement Defense on 3 of 6 Patents

Research Triangle, NC, March 25, 2024 – Delaware District Court Judge Jennifer L. Hall today finalized a pivotal order that supports SmartSky’s argument that Gogo Business Aviation (NASDAQ: $GOGO) is infringing on SmartSky’s innovative technology. As part of the order, the Court adopted a set of definitions of technical terms included in six patents SmartSky asserted in its infringement case against Gogo (C.A. No. 22-266-GBW). The order establishes that SmartSky patents covers both “hard” and “soft” handoffs, a foundational issue in the case that will effectively eliminate Gogo’s non-infringement defense on three of the patents at issue. In addition, Judge Hall further agreed with SmartSky’s description of the novel “wedge-shaped architecture” of radio signals used in its newly invented beamforming technology. As it relates to SmartSky’s patent on spectrum re-use, Judge Hall importantly agreed that terrestrial base stations do not have to be within the same network as the ATG base stations. The Court’s order will leave several other claim construction definitions for a jury to decide when the case goes to trial in April of 2025

“The interpretations of these pivotal terms in the patents clearly support SmartSky’s novel and unique inventions, confirming our position that Gogo 5G is infringing,” said David Helfgott, CEO of SmartSky. “Ultimately, decisions made at this juncture have the potential to reshape the landscape of ATG connectivity and will help maintain an atmosphere that fosters innovation while respecting intellectual property rights.”

For background, one of the foundational issues in the case related to a series of patents known as the “‘947” family of patents which describe how SmartSky’s inflight connectivity system hands off a data communications link as an aircraft travels between terrestrial base stations. Contrary to Gogo’s assertion that the handoff in the patents must be soft (i.e. make-before-break), Judge Hall agreed with SmartSky that the ‘947 family of patents cover both soft and hard (i.e. break-before-make) handoffs, which are two valid ways that a “continuous and uninterrupted” link is maintained throughout the handoff between base stations. The definition of this patent language is crucial to the case because SmartSky uses hard handoffs and Gogo has admitted that its 5G system also uses hard handoffs, which would be a clear infringement on SmartSky’s patents. Furthermore, Gogo had previously lost a challenge of the ‘947 patent at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which confirmed the validity of the ‘947 patent.

“We believe that SmartSky has been irreparably harmed. We are seeking a permanent injunction and significant damages, as Gogo has been selling our patented technology as its own since at least the NBAA trade show in October 2021, when they announced their Gogo 5G launch customer,” said Helfgott. “This infringement has not only caused a serious injury to SmartSky, but it also hurts Gogo’s own customers who may find themselves with stranded investments in Gogo 5G products that have a limited future without access to the infringing technology.”

In addition to the foundational issue of handoffs, Judge Hall also indicated that the court would adopt SmartSky’s definition of a wedge-shaped architecture described in its “‘077” patent. The ‘077 patent discloses how SmartSky’s new, cutting-edge beamforming technology and wedge architecture uniquely mitigate interference, enabling aircraft to use the same radio spectrum band that’s simultaneously being used by others on the ground. Instead of broadcasting a signal widely, as old legacy ATG technology did, SmartSky narrowcasts layered, wedge-shaped signals, and orients them toward the horizon, making a one-to-one connection with each aircraft and enabling harmonious reuse of terrestrial spectrum in the air. This key network differentiator had never been done before and was crucial to avoiding the noise and interference emanating from other ground-based 2.4GHz radio signals, especially in high-traffic urban areas where many other terrestrial devices are utilizing this commonly employed unlicensed spectrum band. Gogo’s description in court papers of its 5G system clearly shows infringement on this architecture.

“The primary defense Gogo has argued in the case up to this point has been a strained interpretation of the ‘077 patent language which the judge has now unequivocally rejected,” said Helfgott. “The fact is, SmartSky invented a new way to deliver a premium inflight internet experience while, since 2006, Gogo has coasted on its ATG-monopoly, failing to deliver on ATG innovations beyond its licensed spectrum position, making unfulfilled promises, and often disappointing its customers, only to now copy SmartSky’s essential technology and pass it off as their own.”

During the Markman or ‘claim construction’ hearing as it’s sometimes called, which is a court proceeding to determine the definition of contested patent terms in a case, Judge Hall further ruled on several other key words used in the six patents SmartSky asserted. She rejected multiple Gogo arguments that SmartSky’s patents are invalid because certain terms are overly vague. These definitions will be important in assessing Gogo’s infringement on SmartSky technology.

“We are pleased that a jury will be able to review the evidence in this case, using these definitions, and are confident that any reasonable interpretation of the patents at issue will show that Gogo has been willfully and illegally selling our technology to which it has no right,” said Helfgott.

For more information, please visit SmartSkyNetworks.com.

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