Law Suit Over Flight Suits

A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet being launched from catapult on full afterburner.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet being launched from catapult on full afterburner.

The Aviation community has been buzzing over a civil suit in Georgia between former fighter pilots. The 4 naval aviators are trying to pursue a career in either motivational speaking or business management and allege that the lawsuit, brought against them by Afterburner Inc. and the company CEO Jim Murphy, threatens this pursuit for them or any current or former military pilot.

John Borneman, Kyle Howlin, John Underhill and Carey Lohrenz (the first female F-14 pilot), are the defendants in this case and all worked for Afterburner. In September of 2008 the four started The Corps Group which offers  management consulting and training service, the same services that Afterburner has offered for the last 20 years.

The lawsuit went in favor of Afterburner but the four pilots believe the ruling gives Murphy the ability to decide if former pilots or employees will be allowed to wear flight suits in their civilian careers. But Murphy, a F-15 instructor pilot in the Georgia Air National Guard, denies this and claims that his former employees “forced him to sue them in order to protect his business,” reports Military Today.

The jury, who found the defendants in violation of trademark infringement laws concerning Afterburner’s trademark terms, “Plan-Brief-Execute-Debrief-Win,” “Task Saturation,” “Flawless Execution,” and “Execution Rhythm,” also found them in violation of flight suit trade dress laws.

The Corps Group, the defendants argued, were not in violation of dress trade laws because they wore patches to distinguish themselves from the flight suits of Afterburner’s. Still, on April 1,  and after 5 long years in court, the jury ruled in favor of Afterburner and Murphy and now the defendants are looking at a bill of $788.649 in damages.

After the ruling social media pilot sites blew up with news of the ruling. Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier, was upset by the news and posted on his Facebook page that “Afterburner has sued a few people claiming he owns the trademark for pilot suits.” It seems the aviation community is in an uproar and to perhaps quiet the noise, Afterburner released a statement.

“In a desperate attempt to cast Afterburner in a negative light during the trial, these individuals falsely stated that we are attempting to prohibit all veterans from wearing their flight suits. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE. Unfortunately, this misinformation was repeated in various blogs. The truth of the matter is that Afterburner was and is only trying to protect itself from unfair competition.”

Trade dress and service marks, like a trademark, protect intellectual property. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded in 2011 to Afterburner the trade dress of a flight suit worn for the purposes of “business management consultancy services; executive search and placement services; personnel placement and recruitment,” states Murphy.

Murphy contends that the suit was brought on to “seek protection” against infringement on their trademarks and that The Corps Group only caused “confusion in the marketplace and more importantly with our own clients,” while Borneman argues that the “flight suits and the common fighter pilot terms should not belong to Murphy and Afterburner since all military pilots wear flight suits and learn those terms in their military training.”

Because of the ruling and the injunction that was issued on April 10 restricting the wearing of “military flight suits with patches” and not allowing the use of “audio visual images and photographs of fighter airplanes, cockpits and pilots to “conduct motivational seminars, keynote speeches or workshops that involve fighter pilots,” The Corps Group says this will “strip” them of who they are, pilots. Borneman said, “Right now, I basically have to de-fighter pilot myself and that fighter pilot image is a big deal to me.”

By Lorra B. Chief writer for Silent Soldier

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