Swiss GPS giant Garmin plans to buy Maine mapmaker DeLorme in a move that will likely lead the 40-year-old Yarmouth company to focus on its successful satellite communications devices and away from its traditional map expertise.
Garmin already makes GPS devices and digital maps, and made clear that it wants DeLorme for inReach, a futuristic type of walkie-talkie. The device allows users to send and receive texts and issue an SOS via satellite, and has proven popular with hikers, hunters and sailors, who are often out of cellphone range.
“One of the most compelling products in the DeLorme portfolio is its inReach series of two-way satellite communication devices,” Garmin said Thursday in announcing its pending purchase of DeLorme. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close in 30 to 60 days, weren’t disclosed. As of last year, DeLorme executives said inReach accounted for about half of the company’s $20 million in annual revenues.
Both companies said most of the 92 full-time employees in Yarmouth will be retained. The Maine headquarters – distinctive to travelers on Route 1 because of Eartha, the world’s largest rotating globe that spins in the company’s lobby – will focus on research and development, with an emphasis on “satellite communications devices and technologies.” Marketing and sales people are also expected to continue to be based at DeLorme’s headquarters.
However, the map store in DeLorme’s headquarters will be closed, eliminating “a handful of jobs,” said Kim Stiver, the company’s vice president of marketing. But Stiver said founder David DeLorme, who still holds stock in the company, insisted that provisions be made for keeping Eartha open to the public and tour groups.
SADNESS OVER SALE OF A MAINE ICON
Stiver said Garmin has given DeLorme no indication on the future of the still-popular Maine Atlas & Gazetteer, an oversize atlas of the state that has guided generations of fishermen to obscure dam pools and hikers to remote trails. The first Gazetteer, with detailed maps of even backwoods sections of Maine, formed the basis for the company when it was launched in 1976.
Sales of the atlases have slipped since electronic maps and routing apps became popular at the beginning of the century, Stiver said, but they have stabilized in recent years. The company sells the atlases through retailers, such as Wal-Mart, in addition to the maps store, she said.
Kay Fiedler of Oakland, headed to the map store Thursday morning, where she learned of the company’s impending sale.
“It’s just kind of sad because it’s a Maine institution,” she said. Fiedler said she stopped by to pick up an atlas of Arizona, which she plans to give to her cousin on an upcoming trip.
Walter Cary of Lewiston, who was visiting the store to pick up topographic maps for a planned trip to the Allagash, said he was sad to learn the store will close.
“I love this place,” said Cary, who noted that he has four framed DeLorme maps hanging in his house.
Employees contacted outside the headquarters declined to speak and said company officials had advised them not to answer questions.
Stiver said employees who started with DeLorme before 2015 are in a profit-sharing plan and they will likely get a payout from the purchase, but details haven’t been worked out and won’t be disclosed.
FROM BIG MAPS TO FUTURISTIC DEVICES
The DeLorme family, which owns all of the stock in the company, approved the deal with Garmin, Stiver said, because it will maintain the company’s presence in Maine.
The company was started by David DeLorme, who reportedly was frustrated that many maps didn’t include the back roads that led to his favorite fishing spots. After producing the Maine Atlas & Gazetteer, he used its detailed maps, state parks, natural wonders and more as a template for other state atlases. He then started to transition to electronic maps in 1985 with CD-ROM versions of its atlases. GPS products, which combined maps with precise locations and routing ability, followed in the mid-1990s.
David DeLorme hasn’t been involved in day-to-day operations for about five years, Stiver said.
Garmin’s interest in inReach isn’t surprising, given that it’s DeLorme’s biggest breakthrough product in years. But it also has been a source of controversy. The company is currently embroiled in a patent dispute over inReach with BriarTek, a Virginia company that alleges it holds the patents on the technology behind inReach. In a ruling in November, a federal appeals court upheld a $6.2 million civil penalty against DeLorme, while also upholding a lower court ruling that DeLorme had not violated BriarTek’s patents.
The fine was based on an International Trade Commission finding that DeLorme had violated an agreement with BriarTek that the devices it sold domestically would be made in the United States. The company’s attorney said the decision that upheld both the fine and the ruling that the patents weren’t valid was “Kafkaesque.”
DeLorme has since asked the appeals court for a rehearing on the ruling that upheld the fine, while BriarTek on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up its appeal on the patent ruling, which is considered unlikely.
Garmin is headquartered in Switzerland, but its primary U.S. facilities are in Kansas. It also has major subsidiaries in Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers contributed to this report.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: