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Sat, Jan 01, 2011

FlightPrep's Stenbock: FP Boycott 'The Collective Rage Of A Mislead Mob'

But... NavMonster.com Returns To Operation!

Continuing News/Analysis by ANN Editor-In-Chief Jim Campbell

Aero-News Alert/Update, 01.01.11, 2238 ET: As noted in the breaking news story ANN published on New Year's Eve, NavMonster.com informed ANN that it had made some manner of breakthrough in which they believed that they could resume online flight planning services and as of a few minutes ago, they did.

ANN spoke to NavMonster's Marc Alexander over the weekend when details were still a little murky and expects to follow up with additional info shortly. For the moment, though, a much valued free online flight planning resource is available once again... and we hope that bodes well for RunwayFinder.com and other such services. More info to follow...  

Aero-News Alert/Update, 12.31.10, 1658 ET: ANN has just learned that NavMonster.com will go back online tomorrow, January 1st, 2011... The site has JUST posted the following message: "You spoke (in volumes!) and we've listened. We got all the lawyers and programmers together from both sides, and after some good discussions, an agreement has been reached. No more patent infringement worries."

More details to follow! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Original Report: ANN continues to look into the growing amount of background data surrounding one of the general aviation world's most recent controversies. This, while the anti-FlightPrep sentiment continues unabated and appears to be growing. As of this writing, the 'BoycottFlightprep.com' site has well over 1000 signatures on its boycott petition and the online forum, net, and twitter conversations continue to be overwhelmingly anti-FlightPrep.

As previously noted, the aero-brouhaha started when legal personnel representing FlightPrep sued a highly-regarded (and free) online flight planning site by the name of RunwayFinder. Like many such sites, RunwayFinder's Dave Parsons noted that his site was hand-coded and operated with very little financial compensation. While Parsons shut the site's flight planning functionality down for fear of running the meter on FlightPrep's astounding assessment of potential financial damages (estimated to be as much as $3.2 million per month), he decided to fight the patent's claims on his site and started a Legal Defense Fund in order to raise the necessary capital to fight the mess.

Since then, NavMonster had gone dark (see update at top of story!), SkyVector has decided to pay up and a number of other sites have either curtailed services or shut down altogether... leaving ANN to consider that in addition to all the other questions involved, the FlightPrep battle might result in potential hazards to those aviators who had taken advantage of familiar flight planning utilities to stay abreast of data needed for their flights... Worse; the lack of this data might produce a dangerous situation in which less or no information is imparted -- which might otherwise keep pilots out of trouble.

A bit of a reach? Maybe...

But with at least two of the most favored flight planning sites (and their attendant functionality and familiarity to those who used them) curtailed, there is no question that less flight planning data was available on demand to those pilots who are looking for same. 

FlightPrep is obviously looking for a serious paycheck for the efforts expended in achieving their patent approval... even though this effort has reportedly taken nearly a decade and had been refused at least seven times before its completion. Software and patent pundits indicate that the FlightPrep patent is quite vulnerable but fighting its effects are likely to be costly, simply because patent law is not cheap. Further; there are a number of credible reports that seem to show that FlightPrep is looking to expand the reach of its patent and that other companies working in the flight planning arena, and not necessarily just those presenting such functionality online, may soon be vulnerable.

But the quest for hard cash continues unabated at FlightPrep... with reports that nearly everyone connected with the offering of any flight planning service was contacted by their attorneys seeking "confidential" consults in order to arrange for a licensing agreement. No one seems immune to their quest for patent licensing moolah... AOPA, FlightAware, Jeppesen, you name it. And through it all, FlightPrep has apparently considered each and every protestation an anti-American affront to their alleged genius.... hinting at what appears to be considerable institutional arrogance.

In a recent email exchange with one of the persons who received an email from erstwhile cyber-terrorist 'Dave Merril', FlightPrep boss Roger Stenbock is alleged to have written that, "I base my affairs on the principles on which this country was founded - liberty, free enterprise, fairness, and the rule of law, not on the collective rage of a mislead mob stirred up on the internet."

Mob or not... the nearly unanimous condemnation of FlightPrep's business practices (of late) should make any business person pause and consider. In other words... why is Stenbock/FlightPrep/et al "right" while thousands of others, many of whom are his customers no less, "wrong." There is no question that FlightPrep is losing a LOT of business over the manner in which their practices are now perceived by the general aviation world... and one wonders whether the balance between what they might gain through licensing (if their patent survives what are now certain to be legal counters) and what they lose through the boycott, might tip to an overall losing proposition... if it hasn't already.

Another factor in all this... and one that probably is beyond much of the industry's reach to do anything about, is that current patent law and regulation appears to be hopelessly broken. Trying to keep up with the times, patent law has been reformatted and regurgitated to deal with tough issues such as software design and other intellectual properties while a number of smart legal entities have learned to play the system like a violin... to the benefit of their clientele, but the reported demise of a number of companies who ran afoul of the 'walks like a duck' test... in that they bore enough of a resemblance to the patent to make a lawsuit feasible and the necessary defense nearly unaffordable. As a result, there is great sentiment in a number of industries that today's patent laws and regs are anti-innovation and incredibly difficult to deal with... and ultimately, NOT in the best interests of this country's progress or future prosperity.

And Finally... Our Opinion/Analysis?

Despite the threats to ANN and the fact that FlightPrep would like us to shut up and say what they want us to say, we do recognize the legal validity of their patent... strictly as a matter of law. We do not believe, however, that the FlightPrep patent will survive a competent legal offensive... and we hope that RunwayFinder prevails. Also; in terms of 'aero-citizenship' we think that FlightPrep has pulled off one of the dumbest moves we've seen since Wrong Way Corrigan went... well, the wrong way. They could have done this in a wholly different way... but instead they played bully, acted sneakily and then tried to limit all the negativity associated by removing negative comments from their own sites as well as promoting a few aero-blogs who defended their greed. FlightPrep's behavior has been at best, boorish, and at worst, dangerous. There comes a time when one has to look at one's self and ask what you want -- to be the biggest pariah in GA since two FAA idiots tried to ground Bob Hoover -- or to sheepishly admit that you screwed the pooch and that it's high time to try and rejoin with those who are trying to make general aviation great once again -- while giving up their delusions of patent grandeur -- once and for all. Barring that, I do not see FlightPrep as a going concern by this time in 2011... nor should they be.

The company's actions have been foolish, selfish -- and possibly far worse. But more important and above all else, it is not a company that seems to have the best interests of aviation at heart... and if that's the case... the hell with them.

If you will allow me a Bible reference... the King James Version of the Bible, Galatians 6: 7-9 notes that, "...for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

We couldn't have said it better. More info to follow...

FMI: www.RunwayFinder.com, www.boycottflightprep.com, www.navmonster.com, www.flightprep.com


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