Plans, kits, licensing, IP....

Discussion in 'General Experimental Aviation Questions' started by Pacha, Dec 11, 2019.

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  1. Dec 12, 2019 #21

    Pops

    Pops

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    Same for me. Be interesting to know what 15% and says who.
     
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  2. Dec 12, 2019 #22

    TFF

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    The $55 Vans plans do not have dimensions. At least for scratch building. Only dimensions are ones they allow you to fit. The big versions don’t have dimensions. Their product is trying to sell the perfect kit. The plans with dimensions are old, like last sold in the 80s.

    There are plenty of people who build for hire. Parts or complete. There is a couple of composite shops near by that will deliver you a Lancair IVP if you have the cash. I know of someone who builds Vans wings only. Probably 100. You have to buy the kit; you have to deal with pro building claim on your paperwork. The FAA knows and if you play right they ignore you essentially. Why is a professional is not going to glue rivets in with Elmer’s; quality control in a way.

    Most true plans built planes are fringe planes now. They get lots of honor if built, but very few are finished every year. That is why they are celebrated. Lots of projects on the market for pennies on the dollar. Very hard to get payed for hobby work.

    Building multiple versions of the same plane if they are different can be a reset. Jim Clement has built 10 Tailwinds. He and a few others were the first to build the W10. He has powered them with various engines, built W8s came up with structural mods and tri gear. So while he has built 10 planes, he built essentially ten versions of the plane.

    If you are going to be a pro, you better be a pro. You also are probably not going to make a ton of money. No one will pay you $30 an hour to put together a Vans wing. If a wing kit takes 600 hours to put together, you are not going to get $18,000. Hard to get payed for someone’s hobby. If you are the go to guy, you can make a living. Until you make a name, you’re just someone with parts.

    It’s a nuance game; not hammer and sickle. Just like everything in dealing with the FAA. Building is easy.
     
  3. Dec 12, 2019 #23

    Daleandee

    Daleandee

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    Sonex began by selling plans to scratch build with. They allow one build per set of plans. One way they enforce this is with their wing spar caps. They would be extremely difficult for the average home builder to duplicate. If I understand correctly only the original Sonex "A" straight tail model can still be plans built. All other offerings are now quick build kits and the "assembly plans" aren't detailed enough to allow a build from them.

    Seems like a good approach to me. I've had two of their planes and had no problem paying for plans as in reality it is a small part of the overall cost of building.

    Dale
    N319WF
     
  4. Dec 12, 2019 #24

    cheapracer

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    ..which doesn't make it not true.

    British and Australian IPR law, was involved in an actual case, most IPR laws are common throughout WTO, so I guess it applies in the USA as well, but I can't confirm that as fact.

    You would appreciate that somewhere between 0 and 100% design change, the design can no longer be claimed as a copy of the original.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2019
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  5. Dec 12, 2019 #25

    cluttonfred

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    On the plans side, my understanding is that the design of a particular aircraft is rarely protected by law (unless is has some original, patented feature) but the drawings can be copyrighted. It was bad form of Nesmith to essentially copy the WIttman Tailwind as the Cougar but not illegal as long as he made up new drawings. Hence the numerous, perfectly legal Piper Cub clones. I think there is a happy medium here where, if the original plans are still available, you offer your “Smith Special” as a supplement to the original plans or, if the original plans are no longer available, you draw up an entirely new set and freely acknowledge that you were inspired by the original.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2019
  6. Dec 12, 2019 #26

    TFF

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    The FAA is not in the game of protection of intellectual property. Their stance is every homebuilt is a one of one. No matter the shape. There are other avenues just as powerful for IP. While they are separate a questions. They do mix variously because they are separate; not locked. To play right, you play fair to both segments. Your choice, to ignore one you can get away with, but be ready to at least be called out publicly, even if nothing is done legally. Very small world, home built aviation.
     
  7. Dec 12, 2019 #27

    cheapracer

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    .. and no one cares when it comes to money.

    A Vans RV7 'Quick Build' kit is $36K, I could put an exact copy, rivet for rivet, on the market tomorrow for $18K, i.e. half price, without blinking and nothing could stop me, and I would have a queue of clients, only my conscience makes the difference.
     
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  8. Dec 12, 2019 #28

    Pops

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    On the SSSC, I consider what I done just a mod of the Fisher design. I would never sell plans to anyone. If someone bought a set of 202 plans from Fisher and ask me to give then the information of the mods I made, I would do it at no charge. Not one part is the same as in either the Super Koala or the Koala 202, but I feel that its still a Fisher design and respect their rights to the design.
    My change to the all 4130 steel LG for the 24" wide SSSC fuselage is posted in the files of the Fisher Group.

    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ffphomebuilts/files/FP202 Steel Gear/
     
  9. Dec 12, 2019 #29

    cheapracer

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    Speaking of Tailwind, with IPR now a days you have to be careful with names as well, you all know the "Tailwind" of course, and you all know the "Headwind", recent Branding lawsuits would see Headwind in trouble for taking advantage of Tailwind name (theoretical case).

    Fact stranger than fiction.
     
  10. Dec 12, 2019 #30

    12notes

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    This is correct, you can copyright the expression of an idea (e.g. the drawings/plans), but not the idea itself. If the idea is novel, you can patent it. Since patents expire in 20 years, there's nothing still under patent on most GA designs, so you are free to copy the design as long as you don't copy the drawings or plans, which are copyrighted for life of the creator +70 years (way too long to be reasonable, but the Mou$e's rights are more important than mere citizens' rights).
     
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  11. Dec 12, 2019 #31

    robertl

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    My Zenith CH-701 plans have a serial number assigned to them, and yes they were $400 + at the time I bought them. I have built the wings, elevator, stabilizer and rudder but that's all. I also plan to sell what I have built, I'm getting old and would rather fly than build. I guess if I wanted to build another set of wings I could, but I don't want to, and I'm not going to. Just in case Zenith is watching !
    Bob
     
  12. Dec 12, 2019 #32

    Topaz

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    In US intellectual property law, there's no such "percentage." That myth used to run around here a lot, but it's never been true. And you can't protect the IP in the design of a vehicle, except under extremely limited circumstances where the visual design of the thing is so iconic as to be a recognizable artwork unto itself. And no, "It looks like a CH-750" isn't enough. Ferrari is the only automotive firm that, until very recently when I believe there was another successful case, of a vehicle manufacturer enforcing rights to the "visual design" of a vehicle in court.

    So, we've run through this quite a number of times, but let's do it again. I know this stuff because, while I'm not a lawyer, copyright, trademark and, obliquely, patent impinge on my daily work in commercial graphics. Limiting this strictly to the case of kitplanes:

    First, the airplane design itself:
    • The designer cannot patent the design of an airplane, and has no IP rights to the overall design itself.
    • Certain specific features of an airplane may be patentable, but those features have to show a clear and definitive innovation that is separate and articulable. The days of being able to patent something like a wing shape or overall configuration are long, long, gone.
    • There is a remote and distant possibility that a "design patent" might be obtainable for some aspect of the visual appearance of the aircraft that is unique, distinct, and artistically "of merit" in its own right. But don't hold your breath. These are very hard to get and even harder to enforce. I've never heard of one being applied to an aircraft, and don't expect one ever will be. The big blowout between Apple and Samsung over "tablet computers that are rectangles with rounded corners" was a great example of both that kind of design patent, and of the abuse of such patents. It was so hopelessly vague that Apple should never have been granted the IP protection in the first place. But that's a discussion for not just another thread, but another forum.
    • Determining a patent infringement is usually pretty easy, because of the clear and definitive requirement in order to get a patent in the first place. The USPTO has been doing a miserable job of this the last couple of decades, granting patents that are completely absurd, vague, and overly broad in many cases, but the fundamental determination is usually made by a jury, based on the language and diagrams in the original patent itself.
    Then, there's this:
    • The plans and construction manual for a kitplane are "artworks" unto themselves, and the creator of each is bestowed copyright for them upon creation. They do not have to register that copyright in order for it to be in effect, but doing so is highly recommended if you want to actually enforce your copyright against infringement.
    • Determining a copyright infringement is more subjective than determining one for a patent. The determination is also usually done by a jury or a judge, and the legal standard is that an "average person" would see that the infringing work is a clear derivative of the original, copyrighted work. There is no objective "percentage difference," because how would you do that? It's completely subjective, and you don't have to prove intent to infringe or even prior knowledge of the original work.
    Finally,
    • The person who owns the copyright and any patents involved in a particular design can make any stipulation they like part of the sales contract they make with you to sell you plans, parts, whatever. They can stipulate that you paint it purple, and build the left-hand parts on Wednesdays and the right-hand parts on Thursdays, if they want. Less absurdly, they often stipulate that you can only build one copy of the design from the plans, cannot transfer the plans to another person except in certain circumstances, that you can't allow someone else to use the plans to build an example of the airplane, etc. Note that these are provisions of the sales contract, not provisions of intellectual property law. You agree to these stipulations and restrictions as part of your commercial transaction with the designer, to obtain a licensed and legitimate copy of the plans and construction manual.
    So that's the IP aspect. Separately, you have the FAA, and their rules for "Amateur Built" aircraft construction. They say,
    • The airplane has to be built for the purposes of education or recreation.
    • To obtain the ability to sign off on an annual (IIRC, I'll let someone more knowledgeable jump in here), you have to have expended more than half of the effort to build the aircraft, as outlined on the FAA's spreadsheet. While that used to be interpreted as "51% of the effort" to build the airplane, as time has gone by, that seems to be interpreted more today as "51% of the tasks to build the airplane." Subtle and, as I said, I'll let someone more knowledgeable take over on this one.
    The point being, if you're performing "49%" of tasks of building the airplanes, serially, and selling that to someone as a "fast build kit," then you're probably okay with the FAA. If you do it of someone's design that you've reverse engineered from another example, having never signed a sales contract with the original designer, and the design contains no patented elements (regular patent or "design" patent), you're probably okay on the IP front, too. Use a set of plans or construction manual without proper license (a signed sales contract), and you're almost certainly in violation of the copyright of the designer on those plans and construction manual. If you've signed a sales contract, you're bound to whatever terms are in that contract, or your license to build from the materials provided is voided.

    If you build entire airplanes serially, especially of the same type over and over, and sell them, you're eventually going to come under scrutiny of the FAA, with the idea that you're manufacturing aircraft, not just building examples for yourself and then selling them. How many can you "get away with"? Who knows? You'll find out. Trying to say that you're doing it for "education and/or recreation" is pretty much nullified if you're making any significant profits on the sales. The FAA really cracked down on such "professional builders" several years ago. They also cracked down on "Build Centers" where, it turns out, the center staff was doing most of the work and the owner of the kit being built just stopped by now and again to tighten a bolt or somesuch. The FAA takes a dim view of this, and big fines were levied, I believe.

    TL;DR - Yes, there are some "loopholes" in both IP law and the FAA regs that mean you could probably build some or all of someone else's design, serially, and sell them to third parties for money. But when you put IP law and the FAA regs together, the maze you'll have to navigate and the fact that you won't be able to make any significant money at it, in order to preserve your claim that you're doing it "for education and/or recreation", means that there's really little point to doing so. If you're so gung-ho to be a kit or airplane manufacturer, get help designing your own and then either sell kits legitimately (with your own sales contract), or get a type certificate and sell finished airplanes. There aren't any really viable short-cuts, and the system was designed to make it that way.
     
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  13. Dec 12, 2019 #33

    Topaz

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    Yep, you probably could. Of course, you couldn't buy it from Van's to get the model for your design, because I guarantee the sales contract with that prohibits copying. And it probably prohibits knowingly passing the materials along for someone else to copy. Either way, coming up with that "rivet for rivet" copy, without someone violating their sales contract, is going to be pretty challenging.

    Then, you'll also need to provide support for your copy, because Van's most certainly isn't. At that point, you might as well go legit and do your own design anyway. Your costs are going to be nearly the same as Van's, but you're only earning half the revenue on each sale that he does. There's no business model here that works.
     
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  14. Dec 12, 2019 #34

    Wanttaja

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    Great reply by Topaz, but saw something ironic:

    The term, "Kitplanes" is trademarked...... that's why the title of my book changed for the third edition, to "Kit Airplane Construction". :)

    Ron Wanttaja
     
  15. Dec 12, 2019 #35

    cheapracer

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    I have the plans on my computer, and they didn't come via Vans.

    I could also run out and buy a whole used plane, or a crashed one easily enough.

    Business and money can certainly bring out the darker side of some people, but most of us are reasonably decent, and I have no interest in marketing something that I can't call "mine".


    Simple: I don't live "there".
     
  16. Dec 12, 2019 #36

    BJC

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    Not everyone has behaved with such decency. Consider these: Cougar, Christen Eagle, Husky, Kitfox or Avid (I never remember which was first), the composite Comanche, the composite Falco, the Harmon Rocket, some canards, etc.

    Frank openly admitted that he stole the Pitts design because Curtis would not sell to him.


    BJC
     
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  17. Dec 13, 2019 #37

    BBerson

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    The first Avid Flyer was a partnership between Denney (concept) and Wilson (designer), according to the 1983 EAA article.
     
  18. Dec 13, 2019 #38

    bmcj

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    Avid came first. Danny Denney bought two Avid kits, and came out with the Kitfox shortly after that.
     
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  19. Dec 13, 2019 #39

    Topaz

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    Then they were either stolen, or (far more likely) were provided by someone else who is violating the terms of the sales contract they signed. I haven't read a Van's sales contract, but if their lawyer is worth the money they're paying him/her, that contract contains a provision about passing the plans on to a third party without also transferring the registration/license of those plans, and that third party both paying for them and agreeing to the license terms.

    You could, and probably be legal from that standpoint. Buying an example of a competitor's product to understand their product in light of your own is a time-honored and perfectly legal way of operating. You might find reverse-engineering an entire airplane to be rather a lot of work, however.

    And that's a good thing. Society works better for everyone that way.

    True. Your economics there are not my economics here. Still, if you want goodwill and support in the homebuilt community, at least here in the largest such market in the world, blatantly copying someone else's design and undercutting them with their own product probably isn't the way to accomplish that. Especially with a popular and widely-supported/admired brand like Van's Aircraft.
     
  20. Dec 13, 2019 #40

    cheapracer

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    Well I even bought the Morgan kit years back for discovery, it would be so easy to copy it, with improvements, and could have been selling them today.

    I'm not sure that I always behave "decently" btw ... :p:p
     

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