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We came a long way in a relatively short time in the snowboard history. Since the early no snowboarders allowed to the fact that snowboarding in responsible for todays revival of skiing. The story on how it all began.


Windsurfing gearIllustration from US Patent 3,487,800, issued to inventors Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer on January 6, 1970.Windsurfing, as a sport and recreational activity, did not emerge until the latter half of the twentieth century. Because of the financial stakes in the manufacture and sale of windsurfing equipment, there has been considerable dispute and litigation between parties claiming the rights to the invention.

Different courts in different jurisdictions have recognized different inventors, clouding any possibility of clear attribution. However, what is clear from the historical record is that windsurfing, as it is known today, owes much if not all to the promotion and marketing activities of Hoyle and Diana Schweitzer, In 1968, in Southern California, they founded the company Windsurfing International to manufacture, promote and license a windsurfer design. Together with Jim Drake, an aerospace engineer, they were the holders of the very first windsurfing patent ever, which was granted by the USPTO in 1970, after being filed in 1968. They also originated the term “Windsurfer,” which was registered to them as a trademark by the USPTO in 1973.

The Drake and Schweitzer creation was a surfboard-like board with a triangular “bermuda” sail and wishbone booms, connected to the board via a universal joint. The details of the original designs are available in Drake’s white paper on windsurfing. Also, the history of the invention is discussed in these interviews with Jim Drake [1] [2]. Despite forty years of subsequent development, this apparatus is remarkably similar to windsurfing equipment in use today, and the word which Drake and Schweitzer coined to describe their invention has become eponymous with the sport itself. There is no evidence that they had knowledge of any prior inventions similar to theirs.

Drake relinquished his patent rights to Schweitzer in 1973. Through the seventies, Schweitzer aggressively promoted and licensed his design to manufacturers worldwide, and the sport underwent very rapid growth in Europe. At the same time, Schweitzer also sought to defend his patent rights vigorously against unauthorized manufacturers. This led to a host of pre-dating windsurfer-like devices being presented to courts around the world by companies disputing Windsurfing International’s rights to the invention.

Schweitzer sued Tabur Marine, the precursor of Bicsport, which is still a major manufacturer of sailboards and other marine recreation equipment today [3], [4]. In Windsurfing International Inc. v Tabur Marine (GB) Ltd. 1985 RPC 59, British courts recognized prior art by Peter Chilvers, who as a young boy on Hayling Island on the south coast of England, assembled his first board combined with a sail, in 1958. Intended to be steered by a rudder, it did not incorporate the curved wishbone booms of the modern windsurfer, but rather a “straight split boom”. The courts found that the Schweitzer windsurfer boom was “merely an obvious extension”. It is worthy of note that this court case set a significant precedent for patent law in the United Kingdom, in terms of Inventive step and non-obviousness; the court upheld the defendant’s claim that the Schweitzer patent was invalid, based on film footage of Chilvers.

In 1983, Schweitzer sued Swiss board manufacturer Mistral, which also continues as a major manufacturer of sailboards [5]. However Schweitzer lost the case. The Mistral defense hinged on the work of US inventor Newman Darby, who in the mid-sixties conceived the “sailboard.” a hand-held square rigged “Kite” sail on a floating platform for recreational use. Darby’s published version did not show any connection between the rig and the board (the mast simply rested in a depression on the board) but it did refer to a “more complex swivel step for advanced riders not shown”. He published his “sailboard” design in August 1965 Popular Science magazine. Darby organized Darby Industries, Inc. in 1964 to build what they called sailboards [6], [7] [8]. [9]. However, the “sailboard” never gained popularity, and Darby’s company ceased operations by the end of the sixties.

Eventually US courts recognized the Schweitzer windsurfer as an obvious step from Darby’s prior art [10]. Schweitzer had to reapply for a patent under severely limited terms, and finally it expired in 1987. Shortly thereafter, having lost its license royalty income, Windsurfing International ceased operations (see interview with Hoyle Schweitzer).

For their part, Australian courts, in a 1983 patent case reported in “Intellectual Property Reports” 3 IPR 449, attributed the first legally accepted use to an Australian boy, Richard Eastaugh. Between the ages of ten and thirteen, from 1946 to 1949, aided by his younger brothers, he built around 20 galvanized iron canoes and hill trolleys which he equipped with sails with split bamboo booms. He sailed these near his home on the Swan River in Perth. There is no evidence that any of the later “inventors” ever sighted the Eastaugh craft of a decade earlier on the other side of the world.

It is acknowledged that the Eastaugh, Chilvers, and Darby inventions all pre-dated the Drake and Schweitzer invention. However, the popularization of windsurfing would not have taken place without the efforts of Schweitzer. The prior inventions simply lay forgotten until they re-emerged in legal defenses against litigation by Schweitzer.

The boom of the 1980s led windsurfing to be recognized as an Olympic sport in 1984. However, windsurfing’s popularity saw a sharp decline in the mid-1990s, as equipment became more specialized, requiring more expertise to sail. Now the sport is experiencing a modest revival, as new beginner-friendly designs are again becoming more readily available.

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