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Drone startup off to flying start

Posted by admin On July 21, 201429 COMMENTS

As first appeared in Indianapolis Business Journal.

Two friends and drone enthusiasts in 2012 hatched the idea, as a side gig, to build flying devices small enough to fit in a briefcase.

airdroids-8-1col.jpgBut the idea shifted to a full-scale manufacturing operation that will launch in mid-August and is projected to produce up to $10 million in revenue next year.

“It was like, ‘I like doing this, get to have a little fun, make a little money,’” said T.J. Johnson, co-founder of AirDroids. “Then I unintentionally sold $1 million worth of drones.”

Johnson, an engineer turned intellectual-property attorney for Ice Miller LLP in Indianapolis, started AirDroids in 2012 alongside fellow drone enthusiast Timothy Reuter, who works for the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

They hatched the idea for the Pocket Drone, an unmanned aircraft small enough to fit in a briefcase. Three rotors hoist a GoPro or similar camera into the air and can carry it up to 1-1/2 miles away from the pilot at a top speed of 40 mph.

airdroids-14-15col.jpgInstead of a manual controller, pilots can draw a flight path in Google Maps. Or they can program the drone to follow them for up to six miles before the battery wears out.

“Basically, we’re an action-sports camera accessory,” Johnson said. “GoPro sold a billion dollars in cameras last year, and they’re one manufacturer. So if we capture even a percentage of that market, that’s not a bad day.”

Pocket Drone gained a massive fandom earlier this year after Johnson and Reuter turned to fundraising website Kickstarter to cover the costs of development.

They launched the campaign in January, planning to raise $30,000 over 60 days. They hit their goal within 24 hours. And Pocket Drone, which was little more than a prototype at the time, raised almost $930,000 by the end of the fundraiser.

drones-factbox.gifPocket Drone ranks among the 100 most successful campaigns ever, in terms of total dollar amount raised on Kickstarter, a website that boasts that it has helped fund more than 65,000 projects.

Most Kickstarters reward contributors with perks and gifts depending on how much they donate. AirDroids repaid donations of $415 or more with a Pocket Drone, with more accessories as the donation levels increased.

By the end, AirDroids had close to 2,000 orders to fill, and hundreds more have flooded in since, Johnson said.

AirDroids, with its five employees scattered nationwide, will start production next month at contract manufacturer PRN Associates in Indianapolis.

The drones have large-scale commercial potential, but federal regulations make it a difficult space to enter, so the firm has its sights on individual consumers.

The company is sprinting into a market led by two competitors, 3D Robotics in San Diego and DJI in China. But other firms are starting to pop up as more people take up drone flying as a hobby, said Michael Leasure, an assistant professor of aviation technology at Purdue University.

“There are a lot of younger people,” Leasure said about growing interest in the technology. “Model aviation was kind of an old man’s sport for many years.”


Indianapolis will operate as the nerve center for AirDroids as it ramps up, Johnson said.

As chief technology officer, he steers research and development from the basement of his Broad Ripple home. Reuter handles general business as CEO from D.C. with other employees in Philadelphia and Milwaukee and a contractor in California. Johnson wants to hire three more engineers and software developers.

The version going into production next month will be the 47th, with multiple, smaller updates to each that AirDroids has worked through in the past 18 months.

The drones going to market, which will sell for $500 to $550 apiece, emerged from a hobby of tinkering with electronics and flying aircraft that Johnson has had since his childhood in Reno, Nev.

He moved to D.C. to work on his law degree at American University. While there, he met Reuter at a “maker space,” a type of event in which the public can use tools and materials to build whatever they want for fun.

Soon after, Johnson became involved with an organization Reuter started, the DC Area Drone Users Group.

The two men quickly realized they agreed on one flaw with the machines—none of them were the size they wanted. Drones either were small, cheap and better-suited as toys or they were heavy-duty but cost thousands of dollars.

‘Tool, not a toy’

AirDroids ended up with a drone about half the size of its competitors that is able to film below it all the same.

However, its small size in no way makes it a toy, even though the company designed it to be easier to use than others, Johnson warned.

“We push very strongly away from ‘toy,’” he said. “We don’t like to think of it as a toy for not only legal reasons, but it’s really something that you can hurt someone with. It’s not something you give a kid. The quote I say a lot is, ‘It’s a tool, not a toy.’”

AirDroids targets people wanting to do professional-level film work. Athletes such as surfers or skiers are a major focus because they make promotional films of themselves in action. And there are photographers and videographers wanting aerial shots with no other means to get them.

Before drones, the only option cinematographer Kevin Good had for air shots was to rent a helicopter. He beta-tested Pocket Drone.

“I’m not a big Hollywood director guy,” he said. “I’m a dude who free-lances around.”

Drones are “something cheap and compact and safe and convenient.”

Waiting on feds

But commercial use of drones is an unsettled legal question.

The Federal Aviation Administration says drones can’t be used for commercial purposes without proper certifications and licensing, but “commercial purpose” is not clearly defined, Johnson said.

Drone pilots can film themselves for business purposes such as marketing videos, as long as they don’t sell what they shoot, said Purdue’s Leasure. Not-for-profit uses such as police surveillance or geographic surveys are allowed, he said.

“Nobody can legally sell something by a drone or an aerial platform,” he said. “If I take a photo of my house from above and hang it on my wall, nobody cares.”

But the FAA might not have a say in the matter after all. A National Transportation Safety Board administrative law judge in March ruled that small drones are the same as model aircraft, over which the FAA has no jurisdiction. The FAA had fined an aerial photographer in 2011 $10,000 for using a drone commercially, and the photographer appealed the fine to the NTSB, which dismissed it. The FAA has appealed the ruling.

AirDroids plans to keep focusing on consumer use until federal guidelines are sorted out, Johnson said.

Those orders have the company fully occupied as is.

“I’m so slammed with the Pocket Drones right now, it’s ridiculous,” he said, noting he essentially has two full-time jobs with no plans to abandon his legal occupation. “It’s still fun at least. I’ll take that.”

Ice Miller client, Kerri Leigh, will perform around Indianapolis during race weekend including Indianapolis 500’s Carb Day. Kerri Leigh recently performed at the Music Stage during City of Speedway’s “Festival on Main” charity event on May 9, 2014 benefitting the Indy Family Foundation.  To see Kerri Leigh this weekend, check out the schedule below:

  • Thursday, May 22, 2014Birdy’s Bar and Grill, Indianapolis, IN at 9:00 p.m.
  • Friday, May 23, 2014 – National Anthem at the Indianapolis 500’s Carb Day at Noon
  • Friday, May 23, 2014The Rathskeller at 7:00 p.m.

* more performances may be added

Born in the Midwest, and raised to the tunes of Ms. Patsy Cline and Mr. Willie Nelson, Kerri is a true all-American girl. Like many Midwestern girls, Kerri grew up playing basketball and volleyball, performing the national anthem whenever she could. Ultimately forgoing her chance at a college basketball career, Kerri followed her dream of being a country singer.

Known for her powerful voice, city-edge, and girl-next-door attitude, Kerri has sold out some of the most popular venues in New York City, such as the Bitter End and the Canal Room, and is a recurring  performer at the CMA Festival in Nashville.  Most recently, Kerri was a huge hit at the Indianapolis Zoo’s 500-person sold out event, Zoolala.  For pictures of Zoolala, visit the Indianapolis Star, and the Indianapolis Zoo’s photographs.

Her songs, all original compositions, reflect her dichotomous upbringing – a childhood in small-town Wisconsin, and an adolescence in New York City.  Undertones of her adolescent role models Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Patsy Cline can be heard amidst her sassy, honest, and empowering lyrics.

To learn more about Kerri Leigh, please click here.

Ice Miller’s client, Rashad Lawrence, former Wide Receiver for Northwestern University, signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Washington Redskins Saturday night. He will attend an initial rookie mini-camp at the Redskins facility in the coming week.

Learn more here.

With the Pacers hoping to close out Round 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals tonight against the Wizards, stay connected to the Pacers everywhere you go with Magnitude Agency’s Pacers mobile app, the OFFICIAL app for the Indiana Pacers. Find news, player profiles, stats and take advantage of exclusive promotions.

To download the app in the iTunes store, click here.

Ice Miller is proud to sponsor the City of Speedway’s “Festival on Main” charity event on May 9, 2014 from 6-10 p.m. benefitting the Indy Family Foundation. Ice Miller will be the Music Stage sponsor featuring musical acts from Kendall/Purdy Project, Hang Nine and country singer Kerri Leigh.

“Festival on Main” will have a custom car and motorcycle show, sports screen to watch IndyCar races and fireworks in the evening taking place, rain or shine, at Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. General admission is free.

Besides the music, fireworks and car show, there is a lot to experience at “Festival on Main”:

  • 2 beer gardens featuring 8 local breweries
  • Food trucks
  • Ruth Chris Tent with Fuzzy vodka special drink
  • Zip line
  • Major kid zone with bounce houses, race track experiences, crafts, rock climbing wall, dunk tank
  • Wine and canvas experience
  • IndyCar show cars and displays
  • IndyCar drivers and their families in attendance
  • Local Mascots
  • Robotics area
  • And much more…

All proceeds from the event will go to the Indy Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that aids those in the motorsports community who find themselves in financial need due to hardship caused by illness, injury or death.

Headliner for the Music Stage, Kerri Leigh, is the definition of an all American girl, born and raised in small town Wisconsin to a soundtrack of Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson from her grandparents’ turntable. Almost immediately Kerri began singing and belting out those country songs around the house. In 2011 she met singer/songwriter Craig Wilson and they began writing and performing all over the country.

“We are so excited to be performing on the Ice Miller Music Stage during the Indy Family Foundation’s Festival on Main. After the warm welcome we received performing at the Indianapolis Zoo’s Zoolala, and experiencing the sheer excitement of an Indianapolis crowd at that event, we can’t wait to join in Indiana’s passion for racing! The energy surrounding the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s racing season both at this Friday’s Festival on Main, and two weeks from now at The Indianapolis 500’s Carb Day is just awesome.”

To learn more about the event and Indy Family Foundation, please click here.

Ice Miller is a proud sponsor of the Center for the Business of Life Sciences at the IU Kelley School of Business conference focusing on Informatics/”Big Data” Uses and Challenges in the Life Sciences. Attorney Tom Walsh is moderating the afternoon panel on “Implementing Big Data Issues” on May 9, 2014 at the Indiana Government Center.

Tom’s discussion will show how the use of business analytics is revealing a wide range of insights across a variety of industries.  He will answer questions such as:  How applicable is the “crunching of big data” to the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors? Do privacy requirements make it more difficult to glean information? Can such insights point to potential new products or different uses for ones already on the market?

Afternoon Panel Members Include:

·         Tom Walsh, Partner, Ice Miller LLP, Panel Moderator

·         Michael Mattioli, Associate Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

·         Buck Woody, Senior Technical Specialist, Global, Microsoft Azure Team

·         Titus Schleyer, M.D., PhD, Director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics, Regenstreif Instritute

·         Stacey Yout, Covance

To see the full agenda and to register please click here.

Ice Miller attorney  TJ Johnson was recently featured on Fox Business News for being the co- creator of ‘The Pocket Drone.’

TJ and his partner Timothy Reuter created a personal drone that makes high definition action photography accessible and convenient for consumers.  The Pocket Drone is the first ever drone that folds to the size of a 7-inch tablet, but still has the ability to carry a high-quality camera. The $495 retail price includes everything a consumer needs to fly the drone, except the camera.  In the three months since The Pocket Drone was introduced, Reuter and Johnson have booked orders of nearly  $1 million.

TJ asserts that “Designing and building products like ‘The Pocket Drone’ helps ensure that I am up to date with current technology and have some fun in my free time.  Personally experiencing the same challenges as our clients helps me understand their process and be better prepared to assist them throughout their business and product development.”

As an engineer with a background in designing and building electronic control solutions for motion control systems, Johnson has always been involved in projects such as this one.  Before pursuing a legal career, he started his own business designing and building embedded systems in his hometown of Reno, Nevada.

To see the interview, please follow this link:, or visit for more information on The Pocket Drone.

Ice Miller Proudly Supports Junior Achievement

Posted by L. Marcum On March 31, 201418 COMMENTS

Ice Miller was the proud VIP sponsor of Junior Achievement’s 26th Annual Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame event on February 20, 2014 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. Close to 600 business leaders and their guests gathered to honor outstanding men and women who epitomize success in the business world, high moral and ethical standards, and dedication to important civic causes, thereby improving the quality of life in our community. Congratulations to our clients who were named 2014 Laureats:

  • Billie Dragoo – Founder, President and CEO, RepuCare
  • Dave P. Lindsey – Founder, President and CEO, DEFENDER Direct
  • David E. Simon – Chairman and CEO, Simon Property Group, Inc.
  • Michael Smith, Retired EVP/CFO, Anthem

The evening began with an exclusive VIP reception where Ice Miller Chief Managing Partner Phil Bayt spoke about Ice Miller’s appreciation of Junior Achievement. The mission of Junior Achievement aligns with Ice Miller’s efforts in the community, and our firm is grateful to past and present Laureates.

Junior Achievement students participated in the evening’s events, which included stories about the advancements made by the organization. Many Ice Miller attorneys attended the event to support the work  Junior Achievement and the Laureates do for the community.

2014 Laureates enjoyed meeting and listening to Junior Achievement students at the 26th Annual Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame event.

(left to right: Michael Smith, Phil Bayt, Andre Lacy)

Chief Managing Partner of Ice Miller, Phil Bayt, with 2014 Laureate Michael Smith and Chairman of the Board of LDI, Lt. Andre B. Lacy.

(left to right: T.J. Cole, Jason McNiel, Holiday Banta, Jessica McNiel, Joshua Christie, Julie Gasper, Andrew Vento, George Gasper)

Ice Miller attorneys and their guests attended the black tie affair to support Junior Achievement and the 2014 Laureates.

Chief Managing Partner of Ice Miller, Phil Bayt, speaking at the VIP reception in front of distinguished guests and the 2014 Laureates discussing his appreciation for Junior Achievement, what it contributes to the community and how Junior Achievement aligns with Ice Miller’s goals for civic involvement.

Ice Miller attorney Melissa Proffitt Reese and Eric Bedel of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce at the Junior Achievement 26th Annual Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame event.

Ice Miller Supports TechColumbus Entrepreneurs

Posted by S. Rector On March 27, 201434 COMMENTS

Technology-focused entrepreneurs in Columbus, Ohio, have a great resource in TechColumbus. Each year, more than 500 emerging technology companies reach out to TechColumbus for services and funding to grow into sustainable, profitable businesses.

Ice Miller is proud to support TechColumbus through the TechColumbus Expert Network (EN). EN is made up of like-minded professional service firms who understand the importance of helping emerging technology companies in Central Ohio grow into the economic drivers of tomorrow.

As part of EN, Ice Miller offers pro-bono and specially priced legal services to TechColumbus’ startup clients. Our firm helps entrepreneurs with a full range of services, including intellectual property protection, labor law advice, business structure and capital formation.

When we meet with TechColumbus clients, we begin with a discussion about the business itself—where the company is with its business plan and the entrepreneurs’ near-term and long-term goals. From there, we work closely with the client to develop a strategic plan to accomplish legal goals in an efficient and effective way.

To learn more about resources available to your business through TechColumbus, contact Susan Rector at

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. sometime in April 2014. The online streaming copyright infringement case has been watched closely by many in the entertainment and technology industries, as the Supreme Court’s ruling may change the way broadcast companies do business.


Originally filed in New York in 2012, several broadcasters, including ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, sued Aereo for copyright infringement. Aereo is an online streaming subscription service that functions much like the infrastructure in the landmark Cablevision decision. Aereo owns thousands of standard television antennas, just like the ones an average person would use to receive broadcast stations. Aereo then assigns customers an individual antenna for a fee of $8-$12 a month. Customers can record and stream live broadcasts through the internet and view on his or her computer, tablet or smartphone.

Although a customer could use an antenna the same way as Aereo without legal implications, the plaintiff broadcast companies argue Aereo is guilty of copyright infringement because it is retransmitting performances in violation of the plaintiffs’ public performance rights. The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction two weeks before Aereo was set to launch in the New York area. The district court denied the injunction, holding that while the broadcasters would likely suffer irreparable harm if Aereo was allowed to launch, they did not show a likelihood of success on the merits of their copyright claims. The court relied on its prior decision in Cablevision, which held that a system where customers could record television broadcasts on a remote hard drive assigned to each individual customer was not a retransmission because the potential viewing audience was limited to that specific customer. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision in April 2013.

While Aereo was being appealed in New York, two other cases involving nearly identical subscription streaming services reached the courts in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The broadcasters were successful in both of those cases, and the courts held the streaming companies violated the broadcasters’ public performance rights when they did not pay to retransmit the broadcasts. As a result of these conflicting opinions among the circuits, Aereo was ripe for the Supreme Court.

Impacts of Supreme Court’s decision

The road to the Supreme Court was unusual because typically, the party who won in the appellate court fights a petition for certiorari. Here though, Aereo joined the petition so that the case could be resolved on the merits and Aereo would know once and for all if other suits could be brought against it in other jurisdictions. Other parties are more concerned by the underlying issues of the case and filed briefs in support of the petition for certiorari. Some of the parties that filed amicus curie briefs in support of the broadcasters include the National Football League and National Baseball League; the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI); Time Warner; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; and the Screen Actors Guild. While no briefs have been filed yet in support of Aereo, the Computer Communications Industry Association, which includes members Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Amazon, initially filed a brief supporting Aereo with the Court of Appeals.

The broadcasters believe a verdict upholding the 2nd Circuit decision will destroy the business models of all broadcasting companies. Fox went so far as to threaten that the company would convert to a cable pay-tv channel if Aereo was not forced to shut down. The underlying problem for the broadcasters is that a significant portion of their revenue comes from retransmission fees paid by cable and satellite providers to rerun shows. The 2nd Circuit’s ruling opens the floodgates for other services to use an Aereo-like infrastructure to avoid paying the broadcasters. Therefore, the broadcasters fear that soon, no one will pay to retransmit copyrighted shows and the broadcasters will lose a significant portion of their revenue.

Aereo argues that the case is about the right of every American to use a television antenna. In so doing, it frames the issue around putting the control and choice back into customers’ hands as to what television programming the customer wishes to watch. Significantly, Aereo also raises the argument that customers have a right to use new technology, which includes the cloud, to access broadcasts through an antenna and DVR.

The Court’s decision will likely have far reaching implications. If the Court upholds the 2nd Circuit’s ruling that the broadcasters are unlikely to prevail on their infringement claims, broadcasting companies will have a strong incentive to abandon their free-to-customer business model in favor of pay-tv stations, just to recapture the lost retransmission fee revenue. While this will reduce the free content available to the public, a Forbes article reporting a recent SNL Kagen statistic shows that of the 114 million homes with a television in the United States, 103 million already pay for cable or satellite services. Therefore, a very small percentage of TV’s would be affected.

From the other side, companies that rely on cloud technology are following the case closely as a decision overturning the Second Circuit may impact how companies can offer cloud-based services to customers. Specifically, the Court has the opportunity to overrule Cablevision, which may alter a company’s ability to use the cloud without violating copyright laws.

The Court will hear arguments in April and is expected to reach a decision this year.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.

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