Out in Front: The Quick Quid

July 1, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World

Maybe we should take it as validation, an acknowledgment of the worth, maturity, and promise of the GNSS industry, that profiteers show up trying to make a fast buck. A prompt pound, a quick quid.

Or perhaps we should be angry at this violation of international trust, this grasping effort to monetize the free and open exchange of scientific ideas, this contravention of the very spirit and tradition of global navigation satellite systems and signals.

For no sooner have we dispatched the LightSquared wolves from our doorstep than others come knocking, saying they are entitled to a fee for something that everyone else has always given away.

See this editorial from my GNSS Design & Test newsletter for details and background on this controversy.

Not enough has been made, over the last two and a half decades, of what is arguably the United States’ greatest foreign aid project of all time, a free and open gift to the world: the continuous provision of PNT signals everywhere, at no charge whatsoever to users or to manufacturers incorporating the signals in their offerings. Other GNSS providers have followed suit in being openhanded and largely aboveboard, starting with GLONASS, continuing with a few stutter steps through Galileo, and probably concluding in like fashion with Compass, not to mention QZSS and other regional augmentations.

But now the United Kingdom’s military and/or a commercial spin-off and/or two scientists funded by same want to fence off an area of the open sky and say “This is ours and you must pay to use it.” Whether the two individuals acted on their own initiative, or were driven to signal-rustling by a strapped military looking to profit from someone else’s investment, or were prodded into adventurism by an overweening veep of sales and IP, we do not know at this point. Keep in mind, this is the same establishment that gave us the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die.

One British scientist wrote an open email letter, excerpted here, to members of the international GNSS community:

“I would like to make it absolutely clear that this patent application has nothing to do with me whatsoever. I was required to work with both of the individuals named on the patent on other projects. However, I have never ever worked on GNSS signal design and certainly do not endorse their patent application in any way. I personally agree with those that consider this patent to be against the spirit of international cooperation under which the interoperable GNSS signals that we all need have been developed.

“I’m sorry to take up your time. However, my reputation is important to me.”

Would that others had thought of their reputations, not to mention the effect on the industry that nurtured them, no less the shackling of benefits to all humankind, before taking this step.

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