LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I’ve read with considerable interest on this and other sites about the FlightPrep patent enforcement efforts and some concerns that have been expressed by the flying community. I’m not quite sure I understand what all the fuss is about, but then, I come at the issue with a perspective that is perhaps different than most.
First, I’m an attorney with almost 27 years of legal experience. I’ve read and, believe or not, actually understand the FlightPrep patent that’s at issue here. Second, I’m a commercial pilot with almost 24 years of flying experience. Third, I’m a frustrated software developer who has satisfied that frustration, to some degree, by being a beta tester for numerous real developers for more than 25 years. Among them has been the Stenbock-Everson team in its various iterations since late 1980s.
FlightPrep has said that it is enforcing a legitimate patent to protect its software innovation. I happen to agree. Some in the flying community have argued that FlightPrep’s efforts are akin to trying to patent air and are harming the flying community. I respectfully disagree on both counts. First, the notion that Roger Stenbock and Kyle Everson don’t have the best interest of the flying community at heart is simply misinformed, in my opinion. Why do I think that? Because of my familiarity with both of these pilots/software developers for more than 23 years.
Back in the 1980s, Roger M. Stenbock was one of the co-founders of RMS Technology, a company that to this day still bears his initials. RMS Technology created one of the first ever PC based flight planning programs. Though crude by today’s standards, perhaps, the first text/DOS based FliteSoft program by RMS was cutting edge for its time. Needless to say, Roger was a key part of that.
When Roger and his former partner decided to part company in the early 1990s, Roger started MentorPlus. Roger brought Kyle on board and, together, they developed the first ever Graphical User Interface (GUI) based flight planning program for Windows 286/386. In addition to having the first GUI based program, MentorPlus’ flight planning software innovations over the years have also included: 1) the first point to point and rubber band routing options; 2) the first to create complex aircraft modeling profiles for take-off, climb, cruise and descent fuel consumption estimates; 3) the first GPS based moving map; 4) the first automated DUATs dial-up and weather retrieval script; 5) the first to automatically interpolate and incorporate winds aloft info into the flight plan.
MentorPlus’ software used Jeppesen data and because of the little company’s enormous success with developing new ideas, Jeppesen eventually decided to buy them out. The Jeppesen FliteStar program that still exists today is what the Stenbock and Everson team created.
The list of “firsts” for Stenbock and Everson in flight planning development is virtually endless, but none is perhaps more important to the flying community than the simple little script they added to FliteStar that automated the process of DUATs weather retrieval. Why? Because that little script help to save the DUATs program for ALL pilots who use it today. How? When the FAA first contracted with several vendors to make DUATs available to pilots, very few, if any, pilots had access to high speed internet. These were the dark ages when a 56K dial-up modem was cutting edge and $200 a pop. In its infinite wisdom, the FAA contracts called for the FAA to pay each contractor by the minute of online time. Meaning that the longer each pilot stayed online to get his or her briefing, the more the FAA had to pay the contractor. With most pilots using 28K modems and each briefing requiring interactive responses to every input request, each briefing took between 5-10 minutes to complete. As a consequence, the cost of the DUATs program was becoming unsustainable. Because the Stenbock and Everson team had already developed a script to automate the DUATs process, they took the initiative to partner with one of the DUATs vendors and create a stand-alone program that would automate the DUATs process. The Golden Eagle program, as it became known, was offered free of charge to all pilots when development was completed. The automated process helped to lower the cost of the DUATs program for the FAA which made it sustainable again. In short Stenbock and Everson are a key reason the DUATs survives today for all pilots to use.
Not enough? OK, well how about this: The Stenbock-Everson development team worked with AOPA to create the first ever Real-Time Flight Planner based on the MentorPlus FliteStar program, the very program and service that is still offered today to all AOPA members free of charge.
Bottom line, Roger Stenbock and Kyle Everson are both long-time pilots and software developers. They have pioneered huge innovations in the field of computer based flight planning and those innovations deserve protection, as all innovations do. Just because some of those innovations seem ubiquitous today, doesn’t mean they still don’t deserve protection. If you invent something new, you have the right to protect that invention under our current patent and copyright system. Just because the Wright brothers patented the airplane, doesn’t mean we all can’t fly one. Just because Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone doesn’t mean we can’t use one. Just because Stenbock and Everson developed the first online flight planner, doesn’t mean we can’t use that either. But under our current system of laws, each of those inventions and time spent developing them deserve protection. That protection provides the inventor, in part, the right to be compensated by anyone else who profits from the use of the invention. Not unfair nor unreasonable, in my opinion. And what’s more, it’s the law.
What the Stenbock & Everson team has done for the aviation community over the course or more than 25 years is simply huge. They have been generous to a fault, but they also deserve to profit from their legitimate innovations in the field.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in our world of patents and copyrights, it’s also called “stealing.”
BILL SEITH, Hinsdale, Illinois