Inventor Keeps Rights to New Wi-Fi Technology

     (CN) – A man did not sign over the rights to his wireless Internet invention when he partnered up on a project to improve Lufthansa’s service, a federal judge ruled.
     In 2008, Wi-Sky, a company that develops Wi-Fi technology for planes, approached Michael Leabman to collaborate on improving airline Internet service.
     Leabman invented and patented a ground-to-air wireless system, which he agreed to develop into a commercially viable system with Wi-Sky.
     After Wi-Sky had difficulties financing the project amid the economic downturn, however, Leabman backed out and formed his own company, True Path.
     After Leabman and True Path tried to negotiate a new deal directly with the German airline Lufthansa, Wi-Sky sued Leabman and others in Georgia state court in 2010.
     Lufthansa then sued Wi-Sky, Leabman and other parties in the Eastern District of Virginia, seeking a ruling that sets out who owns the underlying Internet technology.
     Wi-Sky claims that Leabman signed over the rights to his invention to it in an Investor Rights Agreement, but Leabman and Lufthansa say the rights still belong to Leabman.
     Though U.S. District Judge John Gibney Jr. found that the Invention Rights Agreement is an enforceable contract, he nevertheless concluded that Leabman did not transfer his prior inventions to Wi-Sky, only those developed after he signed the inventor rights agreement.
     “After extensive and careful deliberation, the Court concurs with Lufthansa and True Path’s interpretation of the IRA,” Gibney wrote, abbreviating the agreement. “The contract language is clear and explicit: Wi-Sky only paid Leabman to build a marketable, finished product for its benefit using his sophisticated design concept. In other words, Leabman did not forfeit the rights to his own prior inventions and intellectual property by signing the Agreement. Rather, he agreed to buy into Wi-Sky, assume the position of Chief Technology Officer, and create a final product for the company.”
     He added: “Examining the contract as a whole and affording the words used therein their plain and ordinary meaning, the Invention Rights Agreement is capable of only one reasonable interpretation: Leabman was employed to create a product using his technological expertise for the benefit, and at the expense, of Wi-Sky. … As such, the Court must favor the interpretation proffered by Lufthansa and True Path.”
     “This case will be set for trial on the issue of what exact Technology was developed post-IRA execution and the timetable for Wi-Sky’s ownership over those inventions and intellectual property,” the judge concluded.

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