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EasyJet wins reservation system copyright case

EasyJet has won a copyright action brought against it by Navitaire, the software developer of the airline's old reservation system. According to the low-cost airline, the High Court has ruled that easyJet's new reservation system did not infringe Navitaire's rights.10 Aug 2004

This new system was designed by Californian software developer BulletProof Technologies, which claimed that the system previously used by easyJet, known as OpenRes, was faulty.

OpenRes was designed by Navitaire of Minnesota, a wholly owned Accenture subsidiary, which provides computer reservation software to a number of other low-cost airlines.

In May 2002, Navitaire sued easyJet and later BulletProof in the English courts, arguing that the new system, called eRes, infringed Navitaire's copyright.

According to BulletProof, the complaint alleged that eRes infringed on Navitaire's internet booking program, agent interfaces in the call centre and airport, its database structure, and a concept it named "business logic"- relating to the sequence in which users of OpenRes queried for airline schedule and pricing information and then entered booking information.

However, in his ruling on 30th July, Judge Pumfrey ruled that copyright protection could not be extended to cover "business logic", and rejected Navitaire's claim to copyright protection of the command codes used by agent interfaces in the call centre and airport. The database was also found not to infringe the data structures in Navitaire's older product, according to BulletProof.

"We have always maintained that this was a fatuous case - and a waste of time," said Ray Webster, easyJet's Chief Executive. "The central parts of the case were found to be totally without foundation. This was the action of a monopolist trying to protect its own business".

In response to Judge Pumfrey's findings Accenture said that it was "pleased with the judge's finding that easyJet and Bulletproof copied significant business aspects of Navitaire's Open Skies computer system and in certain aspects infringed its copyright". However, Navitaire was "disappointed with the ruling that certain aspects of Navitaire's software should not be protected under UK copyright law".

Subsequent hearings are due to take place later this year in which Accenture and Navitaire, although disappointed with Judge Pumfrey's ruling, "will continue to defend vigorously their intellectual property rights around the world".

A parallel case is running in the US, where BulletProof, which has an agreement with easyJet that it can use the reservation software elsewhere, wishes to market the product. To ensure that Navitaire cannot disrupt its business in the future, BulletProof has asked a federal court for a definitive ruling that eRes does not violate Navitaire's US rights, and that BulletProof has the right to sell, distribute and market eRes.

Joseph Vandertol, BulletProof Technologies' Managing Director, said:

"We developed an outstanding system for easyJet. The UK ruling reaffirms our confidence that we will prevail in our federal lawsuit against Navitaire over our ability to bring this reliable, scalable, and flexible technology to airlines, hotels and other travel suppliers."