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Ski Patent Slap Fight: Armada vs. Rossignol vs. DPS vs. The Rest of the Skiing World

(This is a long article, most likely of interest only to obsessive alpine skiers, or people interested in the gory details of patent litigation.)

Warnings and Disclaimers!

  • I am not a patent lawyer. My opinions have no legal weight or standing.
  • This article is entirely my opinion, including all pronouncements about the business practices of various ski manufacturers, and all summaries of information contained in patents.
  • I have no financial or other business interest in any company mentioned here.

If you have factual corrections or additional information, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to revise accordingly.

The Situation

It’s possible to patent nearly anything these days…and the ski industry has finally joined the tech industry in patenting tiny, obvious innovations (often over blatantly obvious prior art) and using them to beat on their (usually smaller) competition. The current slap fight is over who owns the patent on various configurations of rockered skis.

Most skis are cambered, meaning that when set base to base, a pair of skis will only contact each other at two points, one very close to the tip and the other at or very close to the tail.

“Tip rocker” and “tail rocker” are simply a longer and/or more pronounced tip and tail, where the contact points move closer to the center of the ski. This K2 catalog page illustrates camber, rocker, and various combinations of the two. Click it to zoom:

If this seems obvious to you, you’re not alone: the Altai of Siberia have been making skis like this for thousands of years.

(Top and right photos by David Waag, courtesy of offpistemag.com. Click the images to read the stories associated with them.)

Currently, Armada has sent “cease & desist” letters to several small, independent ski manufacturers for breaching their patent on certain types of rockered skis. Finally they sent one to Rossignol, who has fired back with a lawsuit based on their own patent that predates Armada’s—and lurking in the background is a Drake Powderworks (DPS) patent.

[Side note: what makes US patent fights interesting is that they are based on first to invent, not first to file, and court proceedings are usually necessary to determine when an invention was actually conceived.]

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