LightSquared reports progress on settlement talks with Deere, Trimble, but not with Garmin

LightSquared and GPS firms Trimble and Deere have made some progress on settlement talks on the litigation between them in recent weeks, but the wireless firm and Garmin are still at an impasse, suggesting that the road ahead to a détente with the GPS industry will not be an easy one for LightSquared.

All four firms were in U.S. District Court last week in New York City to present the status of their discussions. The settlement talks come as LightSquared has submitted to the FCC its testing plans designed to determine where interference may occur between LightSquared's L-band spectrum and GPS receivers and how it can be resolved. However, a GPS industry group has indicated it does not consider the tests legitimate and is going to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation on separate tests.

At the hearing last week, a lawyer representing LightSquared, K. Winn Allen from the firm Kirkland & Ellis, said that over the past several weeks LightSquared had "worked hard" on settlement talks with all three GPS companies, according to a transcript of the Sept. 8 hearing. He said LightSquared and Trimble "have made progress in discussing a cooperative approach to resolution of the issues before the Court and the FCC as part of the process for resolution of the underlying technical and policy issues at stake."

However, he said that given the nature of the claims in the case, the FCC and other government agencies are going to need to be involved for any final resolution.

Jonathan Shaw, a lawyer for Trimble from Boies, Schiller & Flexner, agreed with Allen's assessment and said the companies are working together. "Hopefully we'll be able to reach some resolution that will satisfy all the various stakeholders, but it's going to take ultimately FCC action and input from those stakeholders," he said.

Allen said LightSquared and Deere have "had several helpful discussions" over the past few weeks and that "Deere has shown a willingness to work with LightSquared on technical and regulatory issues, and LightSquared is optimistic that it and Deere will hopefully be able to reach an agreement sometime within the next few weeks."

Deere's lawyer, Kenneth Schacter of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, also agreed that progress is being made but said that no settlement will be reached in the near term. "I don't want to predict the likelihood that we'll be able to resolve the issues before us, both the regulatory issues and the litigation," he said. "I think that's certainly possible, and our client wants to play out those discussions so that we know where we stand and we can make a reasoned decision on it."

Schacter said he did not want to "convey the impression that anything is particularly imminent because it's not. But we have had some constructive discussions, and it's been useful to get some input from LightSquared on the plans, and we are actively considering what we've heard."

There has been much less progress thawing relations between LightSquared and Garmin. Allen said that LightSquared "has not been able to make much progress with respect to discussions with Garmin" and that despite several discussions, no settlement appears likely right now.  

"LightSquared very much hopes that Garmin will participate in a cooperative process to resolve these issues, but so far LightSquared has been unable to engage Garmin substantively," Allen said, adding that LightSquared has proposed to Garmin that the other parties meet with a mediator but that Garmin "has so far not been willing to engage the services of a mediator."

Garmin, for its part, "would be delighted to settle this case," according to its lawyer, Philip Douglas from Jones Day. However, he said LightSquared "has been unable to provide us with any technical information as to what a technical solution would be. We would be delighted to have that, and we would promise to respond in substance."

Douglas said a key issue could be that Garmin's devices are different from those at issue with Deere and Trimble, especially because Garmin supplies navigation and landing devices for aircraft, and "that presents more serious technical problems." He also suggested LightSquared "will not be prepared to resolve the aviation-related issues for many months to come." Douglas suggested that other suppliers of navigation devices for aircraft should also participate in the mediation talks.

"So we're happy to engage in settlement discussions, but, as we've informed LightSquared, there must be something to mediate in the first place, some idea, some plan," Douglas said.

"We are in three different places with the three different companies, and we are committed to continuing both our efforts to talk to all parties and our work to identify solutions to enable a positive resolution to the business and technical issues," LightSquared spokeswoman Ashley Durmer told FierceWireless. "In the fall, Roberson & Associates will complete its engineering tests and analysis and that will provide an opportunity for industry to look at new data and further participate on talks to find compromise."

LightSquared is requesting that the FCC transfer control of spectrum licenses to the new LightSquared that is emerging from bankruptcy protection. LightSquared has said it will use the airwaves for public and private users, including the transport and energy industries, as well as first responders and federal government agencies. Separately, LightSquared has contracted with Dennis Roberson and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in spectrum and RF measurements and analysis, to conduct the tests.

LightSquared initially launched in 2010 with the goal of building a nationwide wireless LTE network that other companies could use in order to offer their own services to customers. The company signed up around 40 wholesale customers to the plan. However, LightSquared entered bankruptcy protection in May 2012 after the FCC revoked its conditional license to operate because of unresolved concerns that LightSquared's planned LTE-based network in the L-band would interfere with GPS receivers. LightSquared vigorously contested that move.

For more:
- see this court transcript

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