Voice Your Concerns to the FTC Regarding the Patent Settlement between Celestron and Meade
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July 30, 2004
Recently Celestron and Meade settled out of court a suit that Meade brought against Celestron for patent infringement. Celestron was being sued by Meade because NexStar scopes point north and level in order to automatically point at the two alignment stars during Auto and GPS Alignment. In patent cases, it is the burden of the challenger (Celestron in this case) to prove that the patent is invalid. Courts almost never strike down patents. So, Celestron was most likely faced with several more years of paying lawyers and court fees (certainly several hundreds of thousands of dollars) and still not very likely to win. The result - Celestron has agreed to pay $100 or 8% of net for EACH scope they sell that uses north and level.
Consider this - take 50 engineers with no knowledge of astronomy, put them in 50 separate rooms, explain the motion of the sky and then ask them to design a system that automatically points a tube at any given RA-Dec coordinates. I'd bet a months pay that almost every one of them will propose a model that starts with the tube pointed north and level. It is so logical that all portable computerized alt-az telescopes use this method for alignment.
Said another way - to determine the alt-az of any given point in the sky, the common sense method is to know the point on the horizon that lies directly beneath the north or south celestial pole and to have an altitude reference - level. This is a fact due to the motion of the Earth - a natural phenomenon. Meade has of course patented a common sense usage of a natural phenomenon.
And $100 per scope is absolutely ludicrous. Patents are to protect "intellectual property". Said another way, Meade is claiming that they did the research and development that brought about this wonderful revelation and it isn't fair to their shareholders that another company benefits from this research and development (R&D). So, how long do you think one of their engineers spent during R&D before deciding the starting conditions of their alignment procedures would be north and level? 5 or 10 minutes? Distributed across all of their scopes does this equate to $100 per scope of time/effort/money spent during R&D? I could see a royalty of 5 or 10 dollars - well, really 5 or 10 cents - across the tens of thousands of scopes that use this "technology".
Of course, the real result of this settlement is that Celestron will be forced to increase the price of their scopes (maybe that is the reason for the recent price increases?) which will allow Meade to increase the price of their scopes as well. In the end, this hurts all consumers of both companies.
I've sent a letter similar to this one to both Sky and Telescope and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC says they may look into it, particularly if other consumers raise concerns. If you also find this situation unacceptable and damaging to the interests of consumers, join me in raising your concerns to the FTC by clicking here.