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January 23, 2013

ACR vs DME SATRO PLB: DME Loses

Filed in Musings

Final judgment is in on ACR’s lawsuit against DME and its design consultants alleging that they misappropriated ACR trade secrets and documents and incorporated them into DME’s SATRO PLB. In a Stipulated Judgment and Permanent Injunction issued on January 15, 2013, DME lost big time.

For background:

Click Here for the original article about the DME SATRO PLB from December 9, 2011: They Keep Shrinking: Smaller & Lighter PLB From DME

Click Here for the intial article detailing the filing of the lawsuit with supporting documents from October 15, 2012: What Happened to the SATRO PLB from DME?

The Stipulated Judgment and Permanent Injunction represents a negotiated agreement between the parties that has been agrreed to and been signed off by the judge in the case. This came about after DME lost the critical first round when the judge issued a preliminary injunction against DME back in October 2012.

Click Here to read that Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, which includes the judge’s findings of fact which virtually all fell in favor of ACR.

In the end, not only was DME forced to pull the SATRO PLB from the market, which it had already essentially done, and agree not to use ACR’s trade secrets, they also agreed that for a period of four years they would not market ANY PLB and for two years would not market ANY EPIRB. Essentially, for the agreed periods of time, DME is out of the PLB and EPIRB business.

Moreover, the other defendants, the design consultants who formerly worked for ACR, agreed that for a period of five years they cannot work or contribut in any way to the design, development. marketing or sales of PLBs, EPIRBs, or ELTs.

There’s more details, but those represent the bottom line results, a big win by ACR. Click here to read the entire Stipulated Judgment and Permanent Injunction.

October 15, 2012

What Happened to the SATRO PLB from DME?

Filed in Gear , News

NOTE: DME has withdrawn the SATRO PLB from the market. Click here for the final judgement in this lawsuit.

SARTO PLB-110I have been getting a number of inquires about Astronics DME Corporation’s SATRO PLB-110 “world’s smallest and lightest” PLB that we first wrote about back in December of last year (2011). Besides being small, one of the unique features of the PLB was a form factor that mimicked a modern smart phone, making it flatter and more pocketable than existing designs. It was also buoyant, despite the small size, another unique feature at the time. There’s been a lot of interest and DME was saying that they expected to reach market in the Spring of 2012, though Spring came and went without the PLB being available.

Since it isn’t unusual for a distress beacon manufacturer to blow their expected introduction date, in my experience, I wasn’t all that concerned or surprised. In any case, we are now in the Fall of 2012, and after more emails to me asking what was happening, I decided to check up on what was going on.

I was able to ascertain that both COSPAS-SARSAT and FCC approvals were gained in March and May, 2012, respectively, but, I found that the SATRO PLB has disappeared from the DME web site.

When I tried to talk to DME about the SATRO, I got nowhere, zip, nada, nothing! Think “black hole.” Clearly, something was awry and when a company clams up that tight, my first suspicion is some sort of legal issue is involved. After some further sleuthing around the Internet, seems my instincts were correct.

ACR ResQLink PLB-375Turns out that just days before I published my initial report on the SATRO, ACR Electronics filed a Federal lawsuit against DME and its design consultants, former ACR design engineers and employees. These former ACR employees left ACR and formed their own electronics design consultancy, gaining DME as a client. ACR claims, among other things, that they had misappropriated ACR trade secrets and documents and incorporated them into the new SATRO PLB. ACR also asked for a Preliminary Injunction to prevent DME from selling the SATRO PLB, which has not, to date, been granted. You can see all the allegations in the filing here:

ACR’s 1st Amended Complaint

Also, I have posted some motions from ACR and DME:

ACR Motion for Preliminary Injunction
DME’s Proposed Findings of Fact
ACR’s Proposed Findings of Fact

These all make for interesting reading, but, they only tell part of the story. There have been dozens of filings in this case (as of this article, 166 items on the docket). Some of the filings have been sealed at ACR request and there’s hundreds of pages of declarations and additional motions (costs money to get these, so we just got a few of what seemed like the most critical). Whatever else happens, the lawyers involved must be making a mint.

This lawsuit certainly could explain why DME decided against selling the SATRO, at least at this juncture. If they were deemed in the end to be liable, any damages would be significantly lessened if they didn’t sell any of the beacons. And, the motion for preliminary injunction is pretty much moot if they aren’t selling the PLB. On the other hand, there is no certainty that ACR will prevail in court.

Also, along the way, DME filed a counterclaim against the consultants, a normal strategy in such a complicated lawsuit, covering their butt somewhat in case the consultants actually did do what ACR alleges.

If ACR’s claims are true, they have every right to sue and stop the theft of their property. A cynic might note that as long as DME isn’t selling the SATRO, ACR benefits by not having to compete with a PLB that could offer consumers some significant perceived advantages over the existing ACR PLBs.

No surprise, DME and the design consultants counter in their filings that they did nothing wrong and that ACR is way off base. Mostly they say that whatever similarities that exist between the SATRO and the ACR PLBs are the result of common design solutions to electronics required by dint of the regulatory specifications in any PLB and/or expertise and procedures these particular engineers already had prior to be hired by ACR and/or existing technology freely available or not really a trade secret of ACR.

I won’t bore you with the myriad convoluted details, claims and counterclaims, allegations and rebuttals, you can read the filings above if you need help falling asleep one night, but only time will tell how this ends up. As of the end of last month, the court docket shows that the parties had agreed to a mediator, a standard procedure in such cases, and perhaps that means that a settlement can be reached…or not. Another option might be that DME will redesign the SATRO to avoid any possible issues with the claimed stolen ACR tech, or it may be that one or the other may eventually prevail in court.

Without access to all the court filings, it is impossible for me to render an opinion as to who is in the right in this fight. The only thing that is certain at this point is that it is a nasty fight that is costing all involved lots and lots of money and consumer availability of this smaller and lighter PLB is uncertain at this point, so don’t be holding your breath. If you need a PLB today, just get one before you find yourself wishing you had.

Not surprising given the ongoing litigation, neither ACR or DME would comment for this article.

Stay tuned!

NOTE: DME has withdrawn the SATRO PLB from the market. Click here for the final judgement in this lawsuit.

December 9, 2011

They Keep Shrinking: Smaller & Lighter PLB From DME

Filed in Gear , News

(Click images for higher resolution photos)

SARTO PLB-110

NOTE: DME has withdrawn this PLB from the market. Click here for the full story about why you cannot buy this PLB

A new entrant in the PLB wars is claiming to be the world’s smallest and lightest Personal Locator Beacon, eclipsing the current record holder in this regard, the ACR ResQLink which was just introduced earlier this year. Slated to be available in Spring of 2012, the new SATRO PLB-110 from Astronics DME Corporation certainly seems to have a good basis for that claim at just 4.09 x 2.39 x 0.92 inches (104 x 61 x 23 mm) and only 4.3 oz. (122 g).

While not a name familiar to most consumers, DME has been making aviation ELTs (Emergency Locator Transmitters) for 20 years with a reputation for quality and robust products. You will find many of their emergency products installed on most airliners. SATRO is a new brand name for their consumer oriented products, derived from the parent company’s NASDAQ symbol “ATRO,” of which the PLB-110 is the first.

Unlike the other pocket-sized PLBs introduced to date, McMurdo’s Fast Find Model 210 and ACR’s ResQLink, the SATRO PLB-110 is inherently buoyant. While not an essential feature in my opinion, you should always have the PLB tethered to you if flying over water, that’s a pretty neat trick in such a small package. No need for a “float coat” to slip on to provide flotation.

SARTO PLB-110I had the opportunity to handle a prototype and the flat form factor, clearly modeled on the iPhone, makes it very much more pocketable than its competition. The antenna wraps around the body, similar to the ACR designs.

It is equipped with a current generation 66-channel integral GPS, full GPS test function, and a flashing LED. The clear top case has a Fresnel lens molded over the LED to help spread that light wider. I’ll be interested in seeing exactly how effective that is in the real world.

The PLB-110 is rated to transmit at a minimum of 5 watts for the duration of its battery life, rated for 24 hours at -20C (-4F). Its depth rating is 10 meters (32.8 ft) for 5 minutes and 1 meter (3.28 ft) for an hour.

The MSRP is expected to be $299, so street price should be competitive with the McMurdo and ACR.

NOTE: This device has not been authorized as required by the Rules of the FCC. This device is not, and may not be offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained.

NOTE: DME has withdrawn this PLB from the market. Click here for the full story about why you cannot buy this PLB