David Helfgott

SmartSky appoints David Helfgott CEO

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David Helfgott

SmartSky Networks has named David Helfgott CEO, coinciding with the company’s transition from the development and deployment stage to an operational aviation broadband communications services and products company.

Commenting upon the appointment outgoing CEO Haynes Griffin, who will remain as Executive Chairman, said: “His extensive technology and mobile communications experience will help us ensure that all of our operations reflect the high level of quality set by our transformational connectivity technology.”

“I am honoured to be selected to lead SmartSky at this exciting inflection point,” said Helfgott. “When you look at SmartSky’s unique positioning and expansive patent portfolio, it highlights the company’s incredible potential and culture of sustained innovation. Since COVID-19 first began to impact the in-flight communications industry, SmartSky has proven its resilience in many ways, having added more than 40 patents since January 2020, successfully defended its IP from a challenge brought by an industry incumbent, closed on funding of more than US$50 million in additional equity and debt, and overhauled its radio technology supply chain on the way to completing the deployment and launch of its network next year.”

SmartSky Networks aicraft

UPDATED: USPTO dismisses Gogo’s patent challenge of SmartSky

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SmartSky Networks aicraft

As SmartSky Networks pursues further protection of its intellectual protection (IP) in the US courts, the company has announced the resolution of one such action.

According to a statement, SmartSky ‘has summarily defeated industry incumbent Gogo’s challenge brought before the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) nearly six months ago, proving SmartSky’s longstanding position that its ‘947 patent, which covers some of the most essential features of a 5G air-to-ground (ATG) network, like beamforming and seamless cell tower handoffs, was and shall remain valid.’

“Gogo has been proven unequivocally wrong in its challenge. We continue to believe they will have great difficulty commercialising their future 5G network without infringing on SmartSky’s expansive intellectual property portfolio,” said SmartSky Chairman and CEO Haynes Griffin. “Gogo has said many times in the past that our IP didn’t matter and wasn’t valid. The fact that Gogo bothered to challenge this patent clearly indicates that our IP does in fact matter. Moreover, the fact that the USPTO ruled in SmartSky’s favour based only on a subset of SmartSky’s opening arguments reinforces the strength of this patent since it was likely targeted due to a combination of its relevance and Gogo’s perception of their own likelihood of success. Furthermore, this ruling reaffirms the strength of SmartSky’s entire portfolio. Now everyone can know that Gogo’s assertions have been thoroughly debunked.”

“We understand that the importance of our portfolio may dictate further challenges, and we remain poised to defend both the portfolio and the intellectual property it protects,” added SmartSky President Ryan Stone.

In April 2020, Gogo challenged one (No. 9,312,947) of SmartSky’s now more than 180 patents supporting its in-deployment, next generation ATG network with 5G technologies. SmartSky had three months to respond, which it did, and the USPTO then had three months to determine whether Gogo’s challenge was worth further review.

“The market leader tried to undercut SmartSky, but justice has been served and the little guy has won this battle,” Stone said. “We are an innovation driven company and have developed key enabling technologies to transform connectivity in aviation. The USPTO ruling rightfully affirms the intellectual property protection SmartSky has earned on just one of the many patents we’ve developed critical to advancing in-flight connectivity.”

In response, Gogo issued the following comment:

“We disagree with the PTO’s decision not to review the 947 patent,” said Sergio Aguirre, president of Gogo Business Aviation. “To be clear, Gogo reiterates our strong belief that we are not infringing any valid patent held by SmartSky. Furthermore, neither the PTO’s decision nor SmartSky’s patent portfolio in any way impairs our ability to continue to successfully expand, to launch Gogo 5G or to enhance our position in the business aviation market. Today, our systems are flying on more than 5,550 business jets, including more than 1,000 AVANCE L5 systems and nearly 450 L3 systems providing connectivity to business aircraft of all types and sizes.”

Aguirre continued, “We are committed to continuing to set the standard for in-flight connectivity in business aviation as we progress toward the launch of Gogo 5G and further enhance the scale and profitability of our Business Aviation segment.”

SmartSky Networks takes legal action to protect IP

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SmartSky Networks has filed a federal lawsuit through law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in North Carolina Middle District Court, against its former radio contractor, Wireless Systems Solutions LLC (WSS).

The complaint alleges that WSS, whose contract was terminated, misappropriated SmartSky’s intellectual property, and breached a US$30 million contract related to air-to-ground wireless network service, through the improper actions by WSS, two related entities (DAG Wireless LTD and DAG Wireless USA), and three of their senior leaders.

“We have pledged to defend our intellectual property vigorously because it is critical to our success. In this situation, WSS failed to complete what it was contracted to do for SmartSky. Simultaneously, we believe WSS attempted to sell our product as its own, including through an alter-ego company formed after we began working with WSS yet involving the same people,” said Ryan Stone, SmartSky President.

“This activity has caused a delay in SmartSky bringing our next-generation Wi-Fi network to the aviation market,” Stone said. “We’re transferring WSS’s former work scope to contractors who have performed well for us in the past on other aspects of our program.”

SmartSky now expects to launch its network in 2021.