I've had a suspicion for some time that something weird was going on with the Laser builders and trademark owners. There was a mysterious ad on Scuttlebutt Europe last summer from an outfit called Global Sailing "looking for enthusiastic and well established marine dealers to become national or multi national distributors in the European region for the Bruce Kirby designed Olympic Sailing Dinghy." They were obviously talking about the Laser, and I thought there already was a Laser builder for Europe, Laser Performance Europe. What was that all about? There were some other cryptic comments on forums and in meeting minutes that made me suspect something was afoot too.
Now it's all out in the open. The Laser International Class announced today a proposed class rule change to the Fundamental Rule. That's really serious. The Fundamental Rule basically says a Laser is a Laser and you can't mess with it. Apparently there's a dispute as to who really has the rights to build Lasers for most of the world and there's a real danger that the Laser Class may split three ways and even lose its Olympic status.
Holey moley! It's a good thing this news wasn't announced on Friday (April 1) else nobody would believe it.
The current class rules currently say that a builder of legal Lasers must have "a building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc." (Bruce Kirby is the original designer of the Laser.) According to the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) website "a dispute has arisen between parties who claim to be representing Kirby’s interests: a New Zealand company called Global Sailing; and Laser Performance Europe (LPE), one of the manufacturers, which holds the Laser trademark rights for Europe, South America, Africa and Asia... The dispute centers on whether a valid 'design rights holder' agreement exists with LPE... Each of the parties to the conflict has threatened ILCA in various ways – Global Sailing has said it may form a new class association for a 'Kirby Sailboat.' LPE informed the ILCA that it intends to form its own 'Laser' class. We may therefore end up with three different classes and may lose the Olympic status."
My head is spinning.
The announcement goes on to say that because of this conflict "there may not be a sufficient quantity of new Laser boats compliant with the ILCA Class Rules available in Europe and other countries in 2011 and beyond to satisfy the demand of its current and future ILCA members."
OMG. This is serious.
The class proposes fixing the problem by changing the definition of what constitutes a legal Laser builder, and is asking class members to vote to approve the change.
This is complicated. The announcement leaves a lot of questions unanswered, Not least, who is Global Sailing and how did they come to be "representing Kirby's interests"? The whole proposal needs more explanation and consideration. This could get messy.
Update 4 April
Since I first published this post, some of the background to this issue has been made public, although there is still much unknown and a spirited debate about the advisability and impact of the proposed rule change continues in various forums.
For more up to date information check out...
this thread on the Laser Forum and
this interview with Bruce Kirby on Sail World.