With rocker ski technology set to sweep across the country this winter, a patent war over ski design has many in the industry wondering if a full-blown jury trial might result before the season is over.
At issue is a series of cease-and-desist letters sent by Armada Skis to a number of ski manufacturers, including Rossignol.
In court documents obtained by SNEWS, Rossignol states that Armada sent a letter on Sept. 7, 2010, asserting that Rossignol’s flagship S7 ski, as well as its BC110W ski, “constitute patent infringement under U.S. law. As such, Armada requests that you immediately cease and desist your unlawful sale of these models.”
“We sent them a non-legal cease and desist and we were sued in response,” Armada Skis President Hans Smith told SNEWS. “We have been in contact today with Rossignol and believe we can collectively work out an agreement that works for both parties.”
Under U.S. Patent 7,690,674, awarded to Armada on April 6, 2010, Armada requested that Rossignol pull the S7 from the market, “absent an arrangement with Armada.” In terms of potential penalties, the letter stated, “a patent owner may obtain injunctive relief against infringers, and may recover up to three times the amount of damages found adequate to compensate for the infringement.”
In response, on Oct. 12, Rossignol filed suit against Armada in the state of Utah, demanding a jury trial. It said in the filing, “Rossignol maintains that it has the right to manufacture, sell, offer for sale, import, promote, distribute, and/or use its S7 and BC110W skis, and any like products, without a license or any other arrangement with Armada.”
Rossignol also said in the filing, “As the sole owner of the 525 Patent, entitled 'Board for Gliding Over Snow With Improved Shovel and Tail Turn-Up,' which (was) issued on January 17, 2006,” Armada is itself in infringement of patents held by Rossignol.
In particular, “at least Armada's ARVw skis and like products are encompassed by and infringe claims of the 525 Patent,” Rossignol said.
One longtime ski industry product development consultant said patent and design infringement “happens all the time in the ski industry, but it never seems to go to court.”
Once principals at the two ski companies began talking this week -- without their attorneys present -- it began to appear as if this case won't see the inside of a courtroom either.
“We’re involved in pending litigation with Armada,” said Tait Wardlaw, vice president of brands, marketing and communications for Rossignol and Dynastar. “We hope and think we’ll arrive at an amicable resolution to the situation, so we can all get back to developing new ideas and advancing our sport.”
Armada's Smith said he concurred. “Both of us agree that the industry is too small for lawsuits and infighting,” he said. “We hope to resolve the matter soon so both Armada and Rossignol can move onto more productive things.”
Smith did add that protecting intellectual property is an important component of competing in the snowsports industry. “Patents are very common in the ski industry, and we’ve had to pay royalties, as well as give up on designs that were already patented,” he said. “I personally believe patents reward expensive R&D and despite common misperception, actually increase innovation.”
In regards to rocker or reverse camber technology, however, legally defending a patent may be incredibly hard -- if not impossible -- to do. Every ski and snowboard tip effectively employs some level of rocker to keep the boards from digging into the snow. And cave drawings of skiers, as well as skis with dramatically upturned tips discovered from Norway to Siberia, suggest that the design may be up to 5,000 years old.
Much, much more recently, the late freeskier Shane McConkey was experimenting with rocker design by skiing on waterskis in 2000, and with Volant, introduced the heavily rockered Spatula ski in 2002. Also, a simple web search for reverse camber ski patents brings up filings from as early as 1982.
On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the start of the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at email@example.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!