Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Game Changer?

Can a blogger change the world?

Or at least the Laser sailing world?


Most of my readers probably know that the Laser sailing world is in an unholy mess right now. There is a legal dispute going on between Bruce Kirby (the designer of the Laser) and LaserPerformance (the builder of the Laser in North America and Europe.)

Bruce Kirby says that LaserPerformance no longer has his approval to build Lasers to his design, and claims that they are infringing his design rights by continuing to do so. We haven't heard much from LaserPerformance but undoubtedly they will have some legal defense to Kirby's lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Kirby has appointed two other builders in Canada and the Netherlands to build the Laser. But he isn't calling it a Laser; he is calling the boat a Kirby Torch. He can't call it a Laser because LaserPerformance owns the right to use Laser trademarks, the Laser name and starburst symbol, in North America and Europe.

At least everybody thought they did.

Then along came Pam.

Pam, along with her husband Doug, writes the blog called Improper Course.

Pam has been doing some digging into the ownership of the Laser trademarks and their current status. It  turns out the Laser trademarks being used by LaserPerformance are owned by a couple of offshore corporate entities called Velum and Karaya. And Pam has dug up some evidence that there are some issues affecting both these trademarks.

On April 23, Pam wrote a post LASER Trademark for Running Regattas.  Pam reported that "in the US, Velum holds the trademark in the class of services that pertain to organizing sporting events, namely, sailing competitions, and regattas." Nothing to do with actually building and selling boats at all. And as Pam pointed out, Velum, or LaserPerformance, don't actually run Laser regattas. That is typically done by sailing clubs. So what's going on?

On May 5,  Pam (aka Mrs P) posted on the Laser Forum that she had spoken with a representative for Bruce Kirby in the previous week.

Then on May 7, Bruce Kirby Inc. filed a petition with the US Trademark Office asking them to cancel the Laser trademark owned by Velum on the grounds that they had "abandoned" the trademark by allowing numerous third parties to use it.

Interesting. However, it doesn't seem to me that the Laser trademark for running regattas is central to the issue of who has the right to use the Laser trademark on boats. But wait, there's more...

On May 7, Pam published another post Laser Trademarks Up for Grabs?. This time she turned her attention to the LASER trademarks owned by Karaya, the ones that do actually pertain to the class of goods that includes sailboats and sails. She tracked the transfers of these trademarks between various corporate entities and the name changes of some of those entities. She discovered that it seems that the trademarks may have been conveyed at one point to an entity that wasn’t yet legally in existence, and that the last entity to hold clear title to the trademarks has since been dissolved.

It's all very confusing. It makes my head ache to read the story. Doug has made a little diagram to make it all clearer but that makes my head ache too.

But if there really is some question over whether LaserPerformance (through some associated company) actually does have the right to use the Laser trademarks, that would be a real game changer.

Can a blogger change the world?

Or at least the Laser sailing world?



Michael O'Brien said...

Go Pam!!!

O Docker said...

Anyone can change the world, if they want to enough.

It's usually not the anyone who does the actual changing, but the facts they're able to dig up.

Traditionally, journalists have done most of the digging because they've had the time and resources to do it. A few years back, a couple of beat reporters at the Washington Post dug up some facts that ended up changing who was sitting in the oval office.

As newspapers have less and less money and fewer reporters to dig, it's falling on the rest of us to do it. A blog is a convenient way to tell people what you've dug up, but you don't even need that to dig. And the interwebs are giving all of us some of the digging tools that only journalists used to have.

Whether or not Pam's facts are the turning point in the Laser debacle, kudos to her for being resourceful enough to find them.

/ Pam said...

Thanks for the shout-out and the kudos. Sadly, it all comes down to one word ... men-o-pause. Kind of sucks so why not drag in a little company. Is that TMI? I've lost my filter these days.

Anonymous said...

So I'm trying to follow the whole mess too via the "interweb". Can a blogger tell me:

1. Is it possible to buy a new Kirby Sailboat or Laser from anyone today? If I could I would be concerned that it may have zero value in 12 months because of the wrong plaque and lack or presence of "official laser" stickers. Will the market collapse?

2. Is there any chance Bruce will get a hold of the Laser trademark, get the new builders (and the original Australian one) to build his Kirby Sailboat and continue with the name which it should have: Laser? Surely this is the best solution for sailing, sailors and the longevity of the Kirby Sailboat.

Sorry, this has become more of a blog post than a comment. I'll try a comment next....

Anonymous said...

A challenge to Tillerman and his followers: Propose some new "Kirby Torch Sailing: The Rules"?

I'll start:
Rule #1 - Agree that Kirby Torch is a stupid name and move on.

Rule #2 - Accept that the cost of your next Kirby Sailboat (and sails) has increased because your money is now going to repay lawyers.

Rule #3 - Buy lots of used Lasers (pre Kirby's non-recognition sail numbers). But move fast: These are now worth more that an AC72 to the 2016 Olympic committee.

Rule #4 - Don't tell your non-Laser sailing-friends about the Laser/Kirby mess. They hate Lasers anyway and this is making them smug.

Tillerman said...

Good questions...

1. You can't buy a Kirby Torch today. As far as I know it has not even been announced when Torches will be available.

2. I think you can still buy new Lasers today. Some of these will have plaques saying they are approved by ISAF, ILCA and Bruce Kirby. Kirby has indicated that these will be welcome to sail in the Torch Class. At some time LP will be selling Lasers with plaques that don't mention Kirby's name. He has said that these will not be allowed to sail in the Torch Class.

3. Will these non-Kirby approved Lasers have "zero value"? I suspect not. My guess is that they will be allowed to sail in club and local Torch events. Nobody bothers to check plaques at such events. Maybe they won't be able to sail in higher level Torch events. Or maybe the Torch Class will allow the owners of such boats to play with them. I don't think Kirby's beef is with the purchasers of those boats; it's a tactic in his battle with LP. And when the war is over, my guess is that the sailors will want to have the game to be as inclusive as possible.

Of course there may never be a Torch regatta circuit. Maybe LP will win the court case and the ILCA will carry on its present form. In which case all Lasers, with or without Kirby's name on them, will be class legal.

3. Will the market collapse? Not in the sense that the price will drop, I think. More likely the reverse. There may be a period when there are hardly any new boats available.

4. Might Bruce get hold of the trademark and allow the new builders to build Lasers? Something like that could happen. Not sure how likely it is. Maybe Bruce's petition to cancel the Velum Laser trademark is one tactic aimed at eventually achieving that outcome, which would probably be the best of all possible endgames for the sailors.

Tillerman said...

Rule #1. Agree. Very silly name. I suspect most of us will always call them Lasers.

Rule #2. The cost of the next Kirby Sailboat will increase for all sorts of reasons. Rumor has it that LP is not making money at the current price even while not paying the designer and other suppliers. The new builders will want to pay all their bills AND make a profit AND (we can hope) have some money left over to support the class and provides sponsorship.

Rule #3. Not necessary. LP wins the court case and they provide new Lasers for the Olympics. Bruce Kirby wins the court case and there won't be any Lasers in the Olympics at all. And there won't be any Torches either because the Torch will never get approved as an International Class in time.

Rule #4. Hey, we Laser sailors have been smug for 40 years because we sail the best boat. Let someone else have a chance to be smug for a while.

But I like your general concept. I will have a think about it.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

If we can't call 'em Lasers or Torches, why not Force 5's or Banshee's? What's the diff? We know what they are.

Tillerman said...

An apostrophe is a terrible thing to waste.

Anonymous said...

Let's call them "the boat formally known as a Laser" and use Prince's logo on the sail.

No wait, that might start a battle with another set of lawyers.

I feel the need for an identity here, but I'm currently stuck with Kirby's level of imagination when it comes to an online name.

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