The repercussions from FlightPrep's enforcement of it's patent on flight planning technology continue. SkyVector has reached a licensing agreement which prevents them from discussing the specifics. RunwayFinder has closed down after a lawsuit was filed against them, agreement could not be reached, and as of this writing the lawsuit has not been withdrawn. NACOMatic, apparently out of fear that they might soon be in the crosshairs, has shutdown. AOPA and Jeppesen have announced that the AOPA flight planner does not infringe on the patent, but have not provided details. Numerous other businesses may be affected, so the pilot community is still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
We've all become familiar with verisimilitude, truthiness, and bafflegab, but it's important for pilots to make informed choices about the companies they choose to support with their patronage. My intent today is to draw attention to the some under-reported details of this situation that are publicly known in an otherwise opaque situation.
Dave Parsons has reported that the FlightPrep lawsuit claimed over $3 million in damages and the way those damages were calculated is creative to say the least: The figure appears to be based on $149, the cost of FlightPrep's product, multiplied by the total number of monthly visits to RunwayFinder's web site. These calculations do not seem to attempt to take into account that much of RunwayFinder's web site traffic was repeat visits from the same people. The advantage of a simplistic calculation like this is that it results in a large dollar figure for damages, which is certainly disconcerting to the person being sued. The idea that there are 20,000 or more people per month who, where it not for RunwayFinder, would have bought FlightPrep's products seems hyperbolic, at best.
Given the lack of transparency surrounding SkyVector's licensing arrangement with FlightPrep, it's hard to know exactly what's going on. Despite FlightPrep's claim of goodwill and not wanting to put others out of business, that's exactly what appears to be happening. Given the lack of transparency, it's difficult to know what else is going on. Who has entered into a licensing agreement with FlightPrep? No one but FlightPrep and their licensees know all the details, but the legal fees must be driving up everyone's cost of doing business. And it seems reasonable to assume that will be passed on to consumers.
Trying to reconcile the lawsuit and the damage claims with FlightPrep's recent statements about how they want to deal with the aviation community is hard work. It appears FlightPrep will fiercely defend its patent and keep licensing details cloaked under non-disclosure agreements. The short term result is that pilots have a shrinking number of choices for preflight planning and patent rights notwithstanding, that's just sad.
Every day, each of us has the opportunity to make a choice about the businesses we want to patronize. For some the decision is based on the quality of the product or service being offered and the value being offered, but it can also be based on how that business behaves in the community. While FlightPrep may be legally entitled to do what they are doing, I find I can no longer support them and have no plans to purchase any of their products. My hope is that FlightPrep will abandon their combative approach to doing business and that they will eventually be seen in a better light. Each of us needs to weigh the facts that are known, come to our own decision, and make our own choices. What will your decision be?