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Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Avionics Company Asks Judge to Throw Out the Eclipse Aviation Claim
By Andrew Webb
Journal Staff Writer
The founders of Aspen Avionics say their company's flagship product was developed long before they were employed by Eclipse Aviation, which sued them in October claiming ownership of the device.
Furthermore, Peter Lyons and Jeff Bethel say in a response filed last week that invention and nondisclosure forms they signed before a pre-employment tour were invalid.
The pair have asked that a judge dismiss Eclipse's lawsuit and rule they are the sole owners of the AT300 Hazard Awareness Display.
Albuquerque-based Aspen Avionics designs and sells multifunction digital avionics devices designed to fit in the instrument panels of older, propeller planes sold with analog instruments. Its first product, the AT300, received Federal Aviation Administration certification in 2005 and has gone on to receive accolades from aviation trade publications.
In its lawsuit, Eclipse claimed Bethel and Lyons, who joined Eclipse in fall of 2002 and worked in different departments, developed the product, set up their company, and began fundraising and marketing while on Eclipse company time.
Eclipse is seeking sole ownership of, and receipt of any proceeds derived from, the AT300. Eclipse included portions of its invention and nondisclosure agreement as exhibits in its suit.
Bethel and Lyons, in their Dec. 7 answer and counterclaims, say the only invention and nondisclosure agreements they ever signed were when, in 2002, and on separate occasions, they toured Eclipse's Albuquerque facility as part of employment interviews, before they were offered positions with Eclipse.
When they protested the word "employee" on the forms, Bethel and Lyons say, they were told there would be no interviews without the signed documents. The pair claim they never signed such agreements while employed by Eclipse.
Upon leaving Eclipse in 2004, after two years' employment, Bethel and Lyons were asked to sign invention and nondisclosure agreements, which they declined to do, according to their response.
The pair claim that they and other engineers developed the terrain awareness instrument, as a retrofit for older piston-engine planes, in 2001 and 2002, before they were employed by Eclipse. They submitted the device for FAA certification in March 2002 and sought patent protection for it in 2005, according to court documents.
They allege Eclipse filed a patent application for the AT300 in June 2006 to "create confusion as to the ownership of the AT300 technology."
Lyons and Bethel also accuse Eclipse of "misleading" investors, potential employees, customers and others about the progress of the Eclipse 500 program. The pair allege Eclipse created a "hostile" environment by blaming employees and vendors for problems plaguing the $1.5 million plane, which was certified in September but is still undergoing FAA evaluation.
The pair said in court documents that this environment "materially contributed to their decision to leave Eclipse's employ."
Bethel and Lyons in court papers allege Eclipse "maliciously" waited until Aspen Avionics had achieved some successes before filing the patent applications and suit.