Weekly Patent Roundup: AT&T

I am attempting to revive my weekly patent roundup alongside my weekly legal roundup.  Should make for some interesting reading!

This week’s patent is U.S. Patent Publication No. 20170181117 assigned to AT&T titled, “Location Assessment System for Drones.”  Soon we will see a drone system in place that requires oversight and AT&T clearly has its sights set on patenting some of the relevant technology for the emerging industry.  The abstract describes the patent application as:

A system for locating unmanned mobile connected objects, such as, but not limited to, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as, but not limited to drones, and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) is disclosed. A command center may be configured to identify current locations of unmanned mobile connected objects, predict future locations of unmanned mobile connected objects, predict and prevent collisions of unmanned mobile connected objects, identify unpredictable variables, such as, but not limited to, plane crashes, disaster areas, cranes interfering with flight paths and no-fly zones and search for unmanned mobile connected objects even if there is no radio signal coverage or in situations when radio signals are inactive, such as during disasters and emergency situations. The system may be configured such that an unmanned mobile connected object may populate a neighboring table with information such as geolocation, cell signal strength, and status, and may be shared with a command center.

The patent discusses a methodology to communicate with UAVs to gather and analyze flight information concerning the UAV.  Interestingly, the first claim is not directed to this direct communication path with a central communication unit.  Rather, the first independent claim is directed to the “ad-hoc” communications network.  This ad-hoc network allows a drone outside the range of the central communication unit to relay information by using an intermediary drone which is within the corresponding range.  Claim 1 reads:

1. A first unmanned mobile connected object, comprising: a memory that stores instructions; a processor that executes the instructions to perform operations, the operations comprising: receiving classification information associated with the first unmanned mobile connected object; populating fields in a neighboring table of the first unmanned mobile connected object with the information associated with a first unmanned mobile connected object; transmitting the neighboring table to a second unmanned mobile connected object; and receiving classification information associated with the second unmanned mobile connected object to populate the neighboring table.

This claim is obviously subject to changes as it undergoes prosecution but is an interesting look at the focus of patent protection for AT&T.

Figure 1 of U.S. Pat. Pub. 20170181117

FAA Drone I.D. Rulemaking Committee Met this Week

The most interesting news of the week is the meeting of an Aviation Rulemaking Committee by the FAA.  The charter states the objective is to “provide a forum to discuss and provide recommendations to the FAA for [sic] regarding technologies available for the remote identification and tracking of UAS.”

The Qube is flown in a demonstration in Simi Valley, California, October 19, 2011. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

The FAA announcement of the committee states the purpose to help protect the public and the National Airspace System from these “rogue” drones.  The committee consists of 74 companies ranging from drone associations, drone end users, drone manufacturers, and mapping systems.  The Fairfax County Police Department is also a representative.  A full list is available here.  The three main tasks of the UAS-ID ARC are

a. Identify, categorize and recommend available and emerging technologies for the remote identification and tracking of UAS.

i. Factors to consider include, but are not limited to: technical and oeprational capabilities such as size, weight, speed, payload, equipage; appropriate requirements for different classifications of unmanned aircraft system operations, including public and civil; technology readiness levels (TRL); operational range; and reliability.

b. Identify requirements for meeting the security and public safety needs of law enforcement, homeland defense, and national security communities for remote identification and tracking of UAS.  The ARC should consider and evaluate the need to provide information that could assist in threat discrimination and determination of hostile intent.

c. Evaluate the feasibility and affordability of the available technical solutions, and determine how well they address the needs of law enforcement and air traffic control communities. The ARC should develop evaluation criteria and characteristics for making decisions, and rate the available technical solutions provided.

i. Factors to include, but are not limited to: supporting infrastructure; relability assurance and continuity of service features; utilization of readily available spectrum/communication network(s); and any limiting factors.

The ARC seems to be welcomed within the UAS industry.  A recommendation report is due to the FAA by September 30, 2017.  It will be interesting to see the recommendations giving the wide sampling of participants and available technologies.

What’s interesting to me is the recommendation does not require a look into the potential intellectual property related to standards and infrastructure.  The companies presenting and discussing these ideas should be required to be transparent in their discussions to determine if the companies could potentially see a monetary benefit from the recommendations to the FAA.

Nevada Drone Laws

This begins a series of weekly state drone law discussions to learn about the different regulations states have enforced on UAS use.  While this series is new, I predict it will end with a discussion on FAA vs. state laws and who has the ability to govern the skies.

The following states have passed UAS legislation (the year is the latest year a UAS legislation was passed, some states have passed legislation in multiple years):

  • Alaska (2016);
  • Arizona (2016);
  • Arkansas (2015)
  • California (2016);
  • Colorado (2017);
  • Connecticut (2017);
  • Delaware(2016);
  • Florida (2015);
  • Georgia (2017);
  • Hawaii (2015);
  • Idaho (2016);
  • Illinois (2016);
  • Indiana (2017);
  • Iowa (2014);
  • Kansas (2016);
  • Kentucky (2017);
  • Louisiana (2017);
  • Maine (2015);
  • Maryland (2015);
  • Michigan (2016);
  • Minnesota (2017);
  • Mississippi (2015);
  • Montana (2017);
  • Nevada (2017);
  • New Hampshire (2015);
  • North Carolina (2015);
  • North Dakota (2015);
  • Ohio (2015);
  • Oklahoma (2016);
  • Oregon (2016);
  • Rhode Island (2016);
  • South Dakota (2017);
  • Tennessee (2016);
  • Texas (2017);
  • Utah (2017);
  • Vermont (2016);
  • Virginia (2017);
  • West Virginia (2015);
  • Wisconsin (2016); and
  • Wyoming (2017).

Source: NCSL Website – 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

This week’s state is Nevada.  The Nevada Uniform State Law for Aeronautics, §§ 493.010-493.120, specifically seeks to regulate the use of UAVs.

At the onset, the Uniform State Law for Aeronautics declares of the ownership of space.  Specifically, NRS § 493.040 states:

The ownership of the space above the lands and waters of this state is declared to be vested in the several owners of the surface beneath, subject to the right of flight described in NRS 493.050.

NRS 493.050 provides that flight over the lands and water of the state is lawful with particular caveats.  In some, you have the right to fly an aircraft unless (a) it interferes with the then existing use of the land or water, or the space over that land or water; (b) it is imminently dangerous to persons or property lawfully on the land or water; or (c) unless otherwise prohibited.  NRS 493.050 also provides for emergency landing situations.

The laws provide for liabilities relating to damage caused by the aircraft as well as a collision of aircraft.  NRS 493060, 070.  It is a misdemeanor to fly dangerously under the prescriptions of NRS 493.100 and NRS 493.080 provides for state jurisdiction of “all crimes, torts, or other wrongs committed by or against an operator or passenger while in flight over this state.”

NRS 493.103, 106, 109, 112, 115, and 118 are all specifically directed to unmanned aerial vehicles.

NRS 493.103 provides for a trespass remedy if a drone if flown at a height less than 250 feet over the property.  There are a few exceptions to this rule but generally, it is an interesting property right and can be read as granting an air space property right over real property.

NRS 493.106 prevents the weaponization of drones.  If a person weaponizes their drone and discharges the weapon is guilty of a category C felony.

NRS 493.109 prohibits the operation of drones near critical facilities or within 5 miles of an airport.

NRS 493.112 provides guidance on the operation of drones by law enforcement agency.   The statute requires a warrant to obtain evidence or other information “within the curtilage of a residence or at any other location or upon any property in this state at which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”  There are, of course, some instances where a warrant is not permissible but it is valuable to require the warrant and limit the use of drones in police work.

NRS 493.115 and 493.118 provide guidelines on drone usage by public agencies and the establishment of an online registry of UAVs operated by the public agencies of Nevada.

This is the first state regulations i have reviewed with regard to UAS and I plan to continue to review each state with UAS regulation and update analysis as required.    Let me know your thoughts or feedback and what other information you would like to see!

Laura Ponto named Chairman of the Board of the Commercial Drone Alliance

The Commercial Drone Alliance is a 501(c)6 non-profit operation.  Led by industry leaders, it advocates for commercial drone usage and generating value for commercial enterprise drone end users.  Laura Ponto’s appointment will bring key legal leadership to the board while the drone industry as a whole is facing uphill legal challenges.

Photo courtesy of https://x.company/projects/wing/.

Ponto graduated from Florida State University College of Law and has spent the last ten-ish years working in various government roles, including her longest tenure as a Senior Attorney for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  Recently, Ponto switched to the private sector and is currently the Head of Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy for Project Wing at X, the moonshot factory.   In its press release, the Commercial Drone Alliance said, “Ms. Ponto’s experience guiding one of the most innovative companies in the space will be a tremendous asset as the Alliance enters a new phase of educating and advising policymakers and delivering value to commercial drone end-users.”

It will be interesting to see the Alliance develop under her leadership.  You can follow the Commercial Drone Alliance at @WorkerDrones on Twitter to stay up to date.