COMMENTARY: Intellectual Property Rights and Copyright issues

By John Harwood-Bee
As I write this it is the middle of World Intellectual Property Day, which falls on the 26th April each year. To those of us who are involved in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and Copyright issues, it is a very important occasion when we are reminded of the need for the protection of intellectual property rights in all their forms.

Having followed the saga that Bruce Kirby is being subjected to, there appears to be no dispute that Bruce is the absolute beneficial owner in the design rights and therefore IPR, in what has until now been known as the Laser. I can find no evidence or reference to him ever having assigned those design rights to any other entity, and therefore must assume that he has retained them. If this is the case, then ISAF and the Laser Class Association and skating on VERY thin ice in supporting any builder who is in breach of a design licence agreement.

IPR infringement is considered by the courts to be a grave offence and punishments of transgressors can be severe. I admit that I am not an expert in vessel design rights, but can assure you that, were this to be the music, television and media industry, we rights owners and our lawyers would be having a field day.

You have only to read recent archives to discover the serious financial penalties issued to those pirating copies of films, albums and videos or duplicating and distributing music without accounting. Million dollar lawsuits have closed down websites and bankrupted individuals.

A recent case in UK, where a student had used his mobile phone to video a movie in a cinema and them put it on a social website, with no financial gain to himself, ended in a prison sentence. If design royalties are not being paid by the builders of the boats, under whatever name, then they will need some excellent argument to prevent a court from ordering seizure of moulds and all equipment, computers and tools used in the default.

As LaserPerformance have carefully avoided answering your questions on this, it seems likely that they are in breach. I think it highly unlikely that Bruce and his lawyers have failed to issue ‘cease and desist’ notices against all parties and therefore there should be a standstill in approval and manufacture.

How, under those circumstances, ISAF and International Laser Class Association (ILCA) can continue to issue plaques to LaserPerformance and any other builder in breach of Bruce Kirby’s rights is beyond comprehension.

The ISAF statement in Scuttlebutt 3825 states that plaques will be issued to any approved ISAF and ILCA builder. It does not state that those builders must be licensed by and in good standing with Kirby, and therefore I consider that both ISAF and ILCA need to check with some damn good IP lawyers to make certain that is it not just their normal arrogance that is driving this.

Surely the fair and equitable solution would be to suspend the issue of plaques until this dispute is resolved. If Bruce is found to be in the right, as I sincerely hope he is, the ISAF and ILCA could face enormous penalties and damages for their support of anybody who has in effect pirated the design. Watch this space….

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