Never Summer’s and Mervin Manufacturing’s Little Patent Brouhaha

I guess I should start by admitting that I’m not an expert on snowboard technology, and I don’t have a strong opinion (any opinion, actually) on which kind of camber is best and I don’t know who made which claim first. I also haven’t read, and don’t intend to read, the patents.   I figure I suffer enough just having to read the public company’s SEC filings.

Having followed some of the discussion on various web sites, it’s clear that you don’t have to know all that much to have an opinion. But I’m going to cleverly stick to history, marketing and industry strategy. Those are subjects which I do know something about in this industry, or at least it’s hard to prove that I don’t.

Let’s start with a little history. Months and months ago, before my new web site was up and running, I posted an article on Facebook that talked about alternative camber and my personal experience with it. It also included some information from an interview with Mervin’s Mike Olson. It might give you some perspective on what’s going on and you can view it here.
 
Meanwhile, I’d like to remind you that I’ve said from time to time, “What’s the Goal? Begin With the End in Mind.” What’s the goal for Mervin and Never Summer in this dispute? It’s not to see who can spend the most in legal fees. It’s not to beat the other one in court and have their patent proclaimed the winner. The goals are to build their respective businesses, earn a return for their shareholders and grow snowboarding by making it easier and more attractive to learn and participate in.
 
How does a business do that? At least in snowboarding, we can say that having the best patented technology first is no guarantee of success (see the above referenced article). I’d argue that’s also true in skateboarding and surfing. Not to mention in software, semiconductors and most any industry you can name. First off, it’s the consumer who decides what’s “best” and they can sometimes have a different perception of our innovations, technologies, and patents than we in the industry do. Second, companies in this industry have spent a lot of time and a truly unbelievable amount of money creating their brands’ market position and image in the hope that the consumer will purchase their branded product based on that image. Even with a patented innovation, a consumer may go with a brand image. Because, let’s face it; there’s no bad snowboard product out there anymore.
 
We all talk to each other too much. This, like all industries, is a bit incestuous. Too much of the discussion, perhaps because a confrontation is so intriguing, seems to be around whose patent is better, who’s got the best lawyers, and who might “win.” I really hope it doesn’t come to that.
 
As two niche brands with long histories and both making product in the U.S., Never Summer and Mervin have a lot in common. Mervin, owned by Quiksilver has done very well the last couple of years. I imagine, given Quik’s situation, that Mervin is under some pressure to grow and I hope that doesn’t impact the resolution of this dispute. Never Summer, because of its reputation for quality and long standing control of distribution is also in good shape. I’m hoping Mervin and Never Summer don’t get caught up in the partially industry generated controversy and forget to ask how this technology can best serve the snowboarders to the benefit of both companies and the industry. There must be a royalty or cross licensing agreement or something somewhere in our future.
 
I know it’s business, and I don’t want to sound naïve. I don’t know who’s “right” and who’s “wrong” but I am pretty sure the interests of both companies and the industry are served by a deal.
 
I read Transworld Business’s excellent interviews with Mervin’s Mike Olson and Never Summer’s Tracey Canaday (you can read them here) and was stunned to hear they’d never met each other. I lived in Ireland for two years and learned that there’s nothing that can’t be settled at the pub. I’d be happy to introduce you two and help you make a deal. I work for beer and I’m hopeful this isn’t more than a four or five pint problem.

 

 

4 replies
  1. benjuca
    benjuca says:

    Dear Jeff,

    I read your site very often, and i must admit that i was a bit surprised to find this article here. I gues it shows how everything trancends in this industry.
    I beleive that this dispute is somehow off, as the both are companies that have a deep heritage and quality level (Mervin has been aroung way longer and we know how Mike is a crazy rocket sientist).
    Somehow i feel both companies are tring to make a stand, that they are true”er” than the other one, but the only winners in this fight will be lawyers…
    Benjuca

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Benjuca,
      Unfortunately, you may be right about the lawyers. But there have been patent issues in the industry before that have managed to resolve themselves before there was too much blood in the street and I hope this is one of those times. As I said in the article, I haven’t read the patents and am not an expert in snowboard technology and function. I hope it’s in both sides’ interest to make a deal rather than fight it out. That would get more improved performance to more snowboarders sooner I hope.

      Thanks for commenting.

      J.

  2. Peterborough
    Peterborough says:

    For someone not immersed in snowboard tech, you’ve written a very balanced and thoughtful piece. Might I suggest forwarding a copy to the Canadays and Mike? Your thoughts on cross-licencing are bang on, and I know that Mervin has been flexible with patents in the past (sharing within the Quik family and with smaller, US-based manufacturers, as well as, if I am not mistaken, Nidecker (via Jones Snowboards, perhaps because they are eco-minded).

    The issue, I fear, just might be a personal grudge, or simple pride, which could be amplified via litigation. Here’s hoping the two largest US-based manufacturers of snowboards can make friendly (and share, as the two tech’s are complimentary – a rider would be well served to have two boards, one with each camber for differerent conditions).

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      I wrote that article quite a while ago. I’m pretty sure the Canadays, as well as Nick, have seen it. As to whether anybody at Mervin has seen it, I don’t know. I don’t have the sense that Mike spends a lot of time on email and it might be that Quik’s legl department is handling it anyway. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to see what ever happened.

      Thanks for the comment.
      J.

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