As avalanche beacon features advance, so too has the competition among beacon manufacturers, both in the marketplace and occasionally in words also. But Ortovox’s recent patent lawsuit against Mammut might be a first.
Before delving into the details, some initial background. In 2005 Ortovox unveiled the design for its S1 beacon. Although Pieps had already been using signal separation for multiburial flagging/marking in its DSP since 2003, the S1 promised to allow a user to choose among multiple victim symbols (instead of just automatically locking onto the strongest signal) and to differentiate between fore/aft in signals, along with a radically new user interface.
Unfortunately, the S1′s release was delayed until 2007 — before then Mammut released the Barryvox Pulse in 2006 with its own version of much of the S1′s feature set.
Or was it Mammut’s own version?
A German court has now ruled in favor of Ortovox’s patent infringement lawsuit against Mammut concerning the use of the internal compass in searching. (The Pieps DSP offers a compass function in its “Advanced” version, but it is entirely unrelated to the search function.) The ruling currently applies only to the German market, but Ortovox can be expected to pursue this in other markets too.
The immediate ramification is that Mammut must withdraw all of its Barryvox Pulse beacons currently for sale in Germany and modify the firmware so that the compass is no longer used for searching: It is unclear if this will affect only the ahead/behind indicator or other aspects of the search function. Mammut must also pay damages (presumably to be computed by someone like me in my day job incarnation) and cover legal costs.
The Ortovox press release follows below (in language that is triply confusing since it was written by a non-native English speaker about legal action concerning technical beacon features, lightly edited by WildSnow for clarity). I’ll try to solicit the official word from Mammut on this for some balance.
October 20 edit: Response from Mammut –
Mammut believes that the court’s ruling applies to the particular manner in which the internal compass is used for searching and is not a blanket prohibition on any use of an internal compass for searching.
Mammut also believes that Ortovox’s patents in other countries are different than in Germany, and that in particular the U.S. patents present no case for infringement.
Mammut is confident that the Pulse beacons currently being pulled back from German retailers will be able to made compliant in a manner that will not affect their performance.
Now back to the Ortovox press release, followed by the Mammut press release.
Press Release: ORTOVOX wins patent lawsuit against Mammut
For a few years Ortovox has been conducting a lawsuit against Mammut because of a patent infringement regarding the Mammut Barryvox Pulse avalanche rescue beacon. On October 14 the judgment on this patent infringement was announced by the higher regional court of Düsseldorf, Germany. The court decided in second instance without further appeal that Barryvox Pulse is indeed an infringement on the Ortovox patent which is used in the Ortovox S1. The court decided in favor of Ortovox as follows:
- is obliged to take back all stocked Barryvox Pulse transceivers at German retailers and refund their money or change the software programme which ensures that the compass is no longer used within the Barryvox Pulse.
- is no longer allowed to sell Barryvox Pulse using a compass as described in the patent.
- has to inform Ortovox about all retailers in Germany who have received Barryvox Pulse and the number of beacons sold to German retailers.
- is obliged to pay compensation to Ortovox for all the above.
- is obliged to pay for all the costs of the lawsuit.
Although the court decided without further appeal German law allows to lodge a complaint against no further appeal which would enable Mammut to go into a further appeal. However, this is unlikely as these complaints are only accepted in case of essential issues. In this case we just have a singular decision on a patent infringement which is normally not considered to be an essential issue.
This court decision is only valid for the German patent. As Ortovox is also holding the same patent in other European countries like Austria, Italy, France and Switzerland and also in the USA and Canada more patent lawsuits are to be expected if there is no agreement between Ortovox and Mammut.
The Ortovox patent combines magnetic compass signals with transmitted signals from an avalanche transceiver. The advantages of this Ortovox patent are:
- The transceiver with said compass function is capable of displaying the direction of the receiving signal in 360°.
- The display of the direction of the signal remains on the screen even in situations when common transceivers are not able to display a signal, for example in a pause of a signal or during the period of overlapping signals.
- Changes in the direction of a signal are shown instantly, without any delay.
- If the searcher is moving away from the victim, the transceiver will still show an arrow in the correct direction, which no other transceiver can do yet.
- The combination of the transceiver signal with magnetic compass information makes it easy to identify a signal and to display more than one victim simultaneously on the screen.
Gerald Kampel, CEO Ortovox, October 15, 2010.
And here’s the Mammut press release:
Statement on Patent Infringement Case Mammut Pulse Barryvox and Ortovox S1
On 14 October 2010, the higher regional court of Dusseldorf, Germany ruled that the Mammut Pulse Barryvox infringes on the German patent for the Ortovox S1 avalanche search device.
The written judgement and the reasons for the decision have not yet been published.
Both devices were developed in the same time period and both represent the highest technical state of the art. The patent conflict developed from independent and secret attempts by both companies to develop features which offer the highest possible safety to customers. The multi-year case was decided first in favour of Mammut, and now after appeal, in favour of Ortovox.
This judgement applies exclusively to the German market and does not affect other countries. Mammut expects the final judgement to be released within a few weeks. Upon receipt of the judgement and the reasoning behind it, Mammut will work to find a lasting solution for the German market that does not affect the future safety of our customers.
The valid Ortovox patents in the remaining European countries and in the USA are significantly different than the German patent. In the opinion of the Mammut Sports Groups legal advisers the Pulse Barryvox clearly does not infringe upon these patents.
In the United States Mammut will continue to sell, service and support the Pulse Barryvox as we have for the past 5 years with no change to our long-term commitment to the safety of our customers or to the professionals who rely on our products every day.
(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)