After a two-year battle in the courts, Cobra Kayaks issued a press release claiming it had won a victory against Ocean Kayaks over the company's alleged infringement on patents pertaining to the Malibu II kayak seating designs held by Ocean and was "now free to go back to the earlier seating if they so decide."
SNEWS obtained a copy of the January 14 court decision, handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. While the court did find in favor of Cobra on two patent claims, essentially stating that two of four Ocean Kayak's claims are, themselves, invalid, the decision is anything but a victory. In fact, the court stated at the close of its opinion that, "We therefore reverse-in-part and vacate-in-part the district court's grants of summary judgment of validity and infringement. We remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
We attempted to get additional commentary from Warren Aitken, co-owner of Cobra Kayaks, but were told that the press release statement was the only comment the company was making. Questions pertaining to apparent continuation of the case and not an overturn as Cobra had portrayed it in the company press release were not answered.
Mark Harmon, director of sales for Ocean Kayak, told us that, "Although the most recent ruling in this case was disappointing, the case is far from over."
Harmon also pointed out that Ocean Kayak holds 64 claims defining and protecting the Malibu II design and that while Cobra sought only to have four of the 64 claims (related to three separate patents all covering the Malibu II design) presented for summary judgment, Cobra is still subject to the Federal District Court, Oregon injunction prohibiting the manufacture and sale of infringing product, as well as to infringement proceedings with respect to the other 60 claims.
SNEWS View: It's a bit premature for Cobra (Glenwa company) to be dancing in the aisles, claiming victory and sending out press releases. Essentially, Cobra is banking that a wave-ski, named the Raider Double, and produced back in 1987, well before the Ocean patent, or the 1994 debut of the Malibu, will be ultimately determined to exist as prior art in the court's eyes. If the wave-ski is admitted as prior art, our legal eagles tell us, Ocean will have much rougher waters to paddle if the company wishes to continue to defend its patents. The Oregon court originally said that the wave-ski is not the same kind of boat or hull design, therefore, it can't be considered as prior art. The court in D.C. said not so fast, and suggested as only a higher court can that the lower court reconsider with a more open mind. Clearly, Cobra thinks it has won. Ocean doesn't. The lawyers get to fight it out making buckets of money, which raises prices -- all over foot wells essentially. Are we missing something here or is the paddlesport industry so large that spending years in court defending a patent over a boat becomes worth it? After all, Cobra is still selling its sit-on-tops, albeit with different seat designs. Meanwhile, cases against both Confluence and Hobie remain stayed pending final resolution of this case. Watermark, though, still a very interested observer, settled with Ocean in 2000.