Ortovox vs Barryvox: Taking It to the Courts


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

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:
 
Mammut
- 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.)

Comments

22 Responses to “Ortovox vs Barryvox: Taking It to the Courts”

  1. Tuck October 18th, 2010 10:33 pm

    Wow, that was a scary moment there. I had to go back and check the byline, as I almost thought that I had read that Lou had a day job. ;)

    What a disappointment that nearly was.

  2. Lou October 19th, 2010 6:53 am

    Good to see Jonathan back with his beacon coverage!

  3. Eric Steig October 19th, 2010 7:52 am

    Lou/Jonathon,

    Do you know which other Ortovox transceivers have this same feature? Does the new 3+

  4. Patrick Odenbeck October 19th, 2010 8:05 am

    Wow.

  5. Nick October 19th, 2010 10:14 am

    I worry what will happen here in the USA if Ortovox continues their litigation in other markets. Will my Barryvox have its compass function disabled by future firmware updates?

  6. Nick October 19th, 2010 10:40 am

    It would be nice if Mammut and Ortovox could come to a licensing agreement to allow the feature to be used on Mammut beacons.

    Of course, it could be the case that Ortovox has already offered a license and Mammut refused to pay.

  7. Nick October 19th, 2010 10:41 am

    Just noticed that the post before mine was by a different Nick :? :lol:

  8. Jonathan Shefftz October 19th, 2010 10:54 am

    “Do you know which other Ortovox transceivers have this same feature? Does the new 3+”
    – Only the S1 (and not the 3+).

  9. Nathan B October 19th, 2010 11:35 am

    Very disappointing corporate behavior here.

  10. Jonathan Shefftz October 19th, 2010 11:44 am

    “Very disappointing corporate behavior here.”
    – I like the way that this comment can be interpreted as criticizing one company, the other company, or even both companies.

  11. Chris October 19th, 2010 12:07 pm

    I’m worried that this ruling will have a negative effect on my beacon – and therefore my safety! Is there any reports that Mammut intends to appeal this decision? I agree with another commenter – I wish that Mammut had been required to pay a licensing fee instead of removing this feature.

  12. Jonathan Shefftz October 19th, 2010 12:29 pm

    I just looked up a New Yorker article I read years ago (back then in print, now on-line), “The Flash of Genius” on Bob Kearns and the intermittent windshield wiper.
    He died in 2005 — after a lifetime pursuing lawsuits against the auto industry, two of which were successful — and a movie was made about him two years ago.
    Some interesting reading if the world of patent law intrigues you.

  13. Maki October 19th, 2010 12:47 pm

    I raised this point before, but I think it’s now even more appropriate.

    Despite the digital processing, current beacons are still built around a primitive technology that’s half a century old. When are these folks going to discuss a new advanced standard for truly digital beacons that communicate with each other and integrate all the “extra” useful features the various manufacturers have been developping lately?

    Are they interested in saving human lives or just ripping each other in the court? How much money, energy and time has been *wasted* in this litigation? What has the world gained from it?

    I’m sick.

  14. Graeme October 19th, 2010 3:47 pm

    so…a legal process amongst BC safety companies that results in decreased safety features. that’s progress??

  15. Jonathan L October 19th, 2010 5:47 pm

    Tough bones. If you spend the time and money to develop something and it is stolen, and that’s okay, you ain’t gonna spend the time and money to develop something even cooler. If Mammut (which makes great stuff, BTW) still wants our business, they’ll do the right thing. And they’ll still get our business. If they don’t, they won’t.

    And the smart people who want to do cool work will end up working somewhere their work is defended and valued.

    OMG my old frequency won’t work? That’s so unfair. I think I’ll put on my Walkman and sulk.

  16. Lou October 20th, 2010 6:53 am

    Property law is an imperfect system, but seems to have worked ok when I look around… Two steps forward and one back still equals one step forward. I’d agree that avalanche beacons could be much better and I’ve been surprised for while that they didn’t improve faster. It’s really been quite a soap opera watching the whole thing over the years. But they do continue to improve…

  17. Jonathan Shefftz October 20th, 2010 2:12 pm

    The response from Mammut (both a quick summary and the official press release) has now been incorporated into the original blog post. (Figured that was better than starting a new blog post.) I’ve also added hyperlinks to the original press release pdf files.
    Mammut clearly views this court victory as having a lesser impact, but of course the ultimate outcome will be in the combined hands of lawyers, software engineers, and electrical engineers. (Kind of sounds like one of those bad jokes with the lawyer, software engineer, and electrical engineer walking together into the apres ski bar and . . . )

  18. Lou October 20th, 2010 3:29 pm

    Thanks Jonathan, yes, since your post was only yesterday we might as well just edit it. If the change is major, make a note in the text. Otherwise just slip it in there.

  19. rolf October 21st, 2010 3:12 am

    People always wonder why the transceiver technology is so ‘old fashioned’. One reason is agreements between the Manufacturers in meetings at the IKAR (rescue services). Second are international standards like CE in Europe. And third (not totally neglectable): developing new software is in the millions. And the number of transceivers users is (still?) limited.
    I think there is still a long way to go in tranceivers, but manufacturers also deserve some credit for constantly bringing out new software for their newest models. Like a developer of transceiver software said to me: ‘I am glad they ask me HOW to built decent transceivers and not IF they should built them’ (financially speaking).

  20. Maki October 21st, 2010 2:08 pm

    Rolf,

    personally I don’t wonder why transceiver technology is so old fashioned. Actually, I don’t think it is. It’s the standard behind it that is obsolete. There is a difference.

    Current standards have been set long ago, in an analog world. All you could do at the times was a totally dumb device with a single antenna emitting/receiving on a single frequency, beeping or flashing a light when you got close to the victim.

    We are now in the digital era and we can do much better. You can fit under your shirt a computer with three antennas, a compass, orientation sensors, movement sensors, heart monitors, you name it. A digital device can tell the rescuer if the buried is alive, if he’s a dog or a human or a snowmobile, it can be turned off by remote if needed and so on. Am I inventing something here? No. In fact, almost all the above is already done by current transceivers. However this is done independently by the various companies, each with his own proprietary solution that doesn’t communicate with the others. The common ground is always the same as 50 years ago: a brainless device.

    Companies are investing a lot of resources to develop interesting features, that cost a lot but in the end are worth next to nothing. You can buy a probe that turns off the victim’s beacon when you find him, but only if it’s the right model. You can buy a beacon that tells the world you are alive, but what good is this doing to you if most likely the world can’t hear you because they bought another brand? You say sales figures are low, but why spend 400 euros on a device that eventually does not much more than as a 150 euro one?

    That’s the point. Unless a new, updated standard that takes in account digital transmisson and elaboration is agreed upon the developement is going to crawl, and sales to be low. Both industries and consumers would benefit largely from it. Instead they race with each other to develop secretly the same feature, hoping to be the first one to put it out in order to gain what, +5% market share? And then spend other money in lawyers…

    I think this situation simply sucks. They are just wasting a lot of resources for nothing, and this case IMHO proves it regardless who’s right in the court. Eventually they’ll have to revise the standard, and they know it. So, why not doing the right thing now? Maybe there are reasons, but I don’t understand.

  21. rolf October 21st, 2010 2:28 pm

    Hi Maki,

    I think we mostly agree! My point nr 2 is exactly about the standard. But setting a new standard is not (only) the business for manufacturers. It involves politics and governments as well! And technically there are some things to say as well (but I won’t).

    It is true that communication opportunities between brands are neglected, but there is hope: Mammut Pulse and the new ARVA Link will share their wireless communication. It will be a start!

    The problem is not so much the sales figures, as well as the total available number of customers. Not enough interested people in the backcountry to justify 10 million or so investment in software and/or new standards!

  22. Lou October 22nd, 2010 9:13 am

    I’d agree that ideally the stalled state of avy transceiver tech could be remedied by better and more current standards. But I’ve studied up on the process of standards, and it’s amazing how long it takes to get them done, and how messed up they become because of all the competing interests as well as ignorance on the part of the authorities who publish the standard.

    Yet ultimately, yes, it’s going to take a series of new standards to really make things happen. Otherwise we’ll continue to see stuttering progress with dumb things like lawsuits taking money and time away from actually making the super transceiver.

    Meanwhile, I’ll predict that within a decade devices such as air bags, Avalungs and who knows what else will virtually eliminate suffocation as a cause of death in avalanche entrainment, though trauma will continue to be a problem. In other words, trimming seconds off search time using space-age tech will take second fiddle to first aid and shovel skills — if it doesn’t already…

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