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February 19, 2007

Snowboarding History

I read the following article entitled "Snow Business" about the history of snowboarding. The article is certainly cynical and reminded me of a post I did last year Where Did the Rebel Factor in Being a Snowboarder Go. You can read more in last week's Skiers versus Boarders - From the Boston Globe.

I want to quote a couple of things from the article:

Today's snowboarding commercials depict stylish, attractive, athletic teenagers whipping through heavy powder on steep, backcountry terrain. The kid in the old Snurfer ads looked to be sliding down a hill with the grade of a nursing-home wheelchair ramp. Worse, in his bulky sweater, knit cap with the dangly puffball, and heavy woolen mittens, he looked about as extreme as Ralphie from A Christmas Story... Then in the late-1970s, a prep-school reject, college dropout, and Wall Street burnout named Jake Burton bought woodworking equipment with a $125,000 inheritance and started building his own version of Poppen's Snurfer in a friend's Vermont barn. Burton began selling snowboards out of the back of a station wagon. "I had to sell the sport as much as the board," he told Esquire last year...

Jake Burton still owns Burton Snowboards, the company he founded, and it has made him very, very wealthy. Burton Snowboards sells more than $100 million worth of snowboards and snowboard gear every year. Tom Sims entered into a lucrative licensing agreement in 2006. Never before have a sport's pioneers profited so extravagantly from its success...

It wasn't just the manufacturers that quickly cashed in. Local snowboarding star Craig Kelly, a Mt. Vernon High grad, was earning a six-figure salary by 1989, and became the subject of a lawsuit between Burton Snowboards and Sims Snowboards. Both companies argued that Kelly had agreed to endorse their snowboards and both companies asserted that his endorsement was worth $1 million...

But the marketing—first snowboards, then clothes, and now the HP Pavilion dv2000t Notebook—has driven this sport more than others, making millions for snowboarding's pioneers. Like a dad inventing a toy for his daughters, nothing could be more American.

But with snowboarding, more so than any other professional sport, it has always been difficult to tell just where the marketing ends and the sport begins.

Now for my buddies that snowboard and also love believe in open source software, movie and music downloading, using patents and trademarks to force out competition is wrong (see Amazon one click buying), and that industries should encourage innovation by constantly improving products not suing their competition--have a read of the testimony of Vanessa Price, an intellectual property attorney for Burton Snowboards:

My name is Vanessa Price, and I am the Intellectual Property Specialist for the Burton Corporation... Despite vigorous measures to protect our intellectual property through trademark and patent registrations, Burton has seen significant counterfeiting recently... Burton is deeply concerned about the rise in theft of our intellectual property since we do not have the resources it takes to combat or offset the effects of large-scale counterfeiting.

In recent years, Burton has expanded to include Gravis Footwear, Analog casual apparel, Anon Optics, and R.E.D. Protective Gear. However, this growth and popularity is not without a significant downside. Our industry has gone through considerable consolidation in recent years. Most of the snowboard manufacturers are seasoned competitors. Believe it or not, snowboarding has matured. Competition is keen and profits are shrinking, even as the sport grows in popularity...

As the Burton brand grows, we face significant challenges to our intellectual property rights. Burton has taken all available and appropriate steps to register our trademarks both in the U.S. and internationally. Currently, we maintain more than 60 trademark registrations in the United States alone. We have taken the additional steps of registering our trademarks with the Customs officials in the U.S., Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Hong Kong, PR China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Unfortunately, filing with Customs offers very scant protection, especially in recent months, where Customs officers are concerned more and more with national security. Burton also holds patents worldwide relating to our snowboard technology, including snowboard boots, bindings, snowdecks, and snowboards. However, despite these measures, we see growing evidence that our brand is suffering from counterfeiting and illegitimate sales...

Clearly IP theft is a significant and costly problem and there are too few tools available to combat it. The tools that are available are expensive and ineffective. The persons who profit most from counterfeiting are rarely caught or punished. The most serious threat they face is a confiscation of their fake goods. What are sorely needed are effective laws and vigorous enforcement mechanisms.

This is what Burton stands for. Massive profits. Copyrighting, trademarking, or patenting everything. Charging other companies massive royalties for using anything that Burton holds the patent on. And using that massive money to sign endorsement deals with anyone and everyone that even thinks about snowboarding professionally so that they have virtually no competition.

Burton is the RIAA and MPAA of the snowboarding industry. Profits for Jake Burton are more important than the good of the sport. Using patents and licensing of even the smallest innovations forces companies to pay Burton royalties for every snowboard their competitors sell, driving prices up. And further, because smaller brands cannot profit to the extent Burton does, and because smaller brands can't afford to keep Vanessa Price on staff as an IP Attorney, Burton simply uses their massive amount of capital to acquire any company that is a competitor.

So if you snowboard to stick it to the man or to be cool or to rebel against corporate greed and your day job where you have to dress up when you go to work, understand that your money spent being a rebel goes to the biggest corporate whore of all. And all the while, you think you are making a countercultural statement. And Burton is out suing folks to shut down anyone that doesn't pay their little monopoly.

Copyleft, Open Source, etc. Download off of Bittorrent while your sport is doing everything they can to choke out innovation with IP attorneys just like the RIAA was when they shut down Napster.

Oh, and just in case you are wondering what kind of patents Burton files then forces competitors to pay to use, check this out:

The present invention is directed to a highback for controlling a gliding board, such as a snowboard, through leg movement of a rider. The highback may be used with a component, such as a gliding board binding, a boot or a binding interface, that interfaces with a rider's leg and is supportable by the gliding board. The highback is comprised of an upright support member including an upper portion that is movable relative to a lower portion thereof for setting a desired forward lean of the highback. The support member may include a pair of mounting locations for mounting the highback to the gliding board component...

For ease of understanding, and without limiting the scope of the invention, the inventive highback to which this patent is addressed has been discussed particularly in connection with a boot or binding that is used in conjunction with a snowboard. It should be appreciated, however, that the present invention may be used in association with other types of gliding boards. Thus, for purposes of this patent, "gliding board" refers generally to specially configured boards for gliding along a terrain such as snowboards, snow skis, water skis, wake boards, surf boards and other board-type devices which allow a rider to traverse a surface.

Doesn't that pretty much cover every binding ever made? Here is a complete list of patents Burton holds or has filed. Have a read.

Posted by Justin at February 19, 2007 02:14 PM


Forgot to add that I know some of you are going to say that Burton is a great company and an innovator and if not for Jake Burton the sport would not exist and what is wrong with the dude making a buck off of the hard work.

Nothing. Not a thing. That is the American Dream. But that is not what Jake Burton comes out and says.

It is precisely the criticism of Burton that I am leveling now that is used consistently against Walmart by folks like, an organization to which Donna Burton Carpenter gives liberally(in both senses) who says:

Wal-Mart will stop at nothing to expand and keep their profits growing. The company bullies its way into new markets, funneling $4.3 million to front groups in California alone.

And that is different than Burton who funnels far more than that to folks like Shawn White to promote their brand and bullies their competitors or simply buys them out with their massive profits from using Intellectual Property laws?

Posted by: Justin at February 19, 2007 03:51 PM

According to this article snowboarding is the choice of terrorists too...

I ride an Arbor.

Posted by: Eric at February 20, 2007 04:24 PM

Classic. Check out the link. Well worth the click.

Posted by: Justin at February 20, 2007 04:49 PM