From guarding against drowning to fighting pathogens,
aquatics professionals are all about protection. But as the
industry enters uncharted international waters, a new group
is looking for protection: manufacturers. Increasingly,
they?re getting it through the tried and true
Based on interviews and data, it seems that firms have
filed for a virtual wave of patents over the past several
years. Just ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In
2005, it received a record 406,302 patent applications
double the number from 10 years ago.
Some say that growth reflects manufacturers?
fear of product and intellectual property rights being
stolen abroad and in the United States. Others say
it?s now easier and less expensive to obtain a
patent than ever before. In the past, an inventor or
company needed to spend a large sum of money to hire a
patent attorney, fill out the paperwork and then wait for
approval, said Mark Blank of Adolph Kiefer &
Associates in Zion, Ill.
Today, it?s as simple as filling out a form
online and more necessary than ever, according to
?It?s harder and harder to come up with
something different, so you do want to protect it,?
explained Dianne Rothhammer, president/owner of Aquatics by
Sprint in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
That?s especially true given the rapidly
expanding global market. Companies are trying to stop
nations such as China, notorious for intellectual property
theft, from copying their products, experts say. While an
American patent does not apply outside the country, the
same idea cannot be patented anywhere else in the world.
Only the inventor can apply for a patent in other
?Everything is being manufactured
internationally, there?s money to be made and
someone?s going to make a knockoff six months after
you?ve made it,? said Alison Osinski,
president of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego.
Patent attorney Richard Seltzer agreed. ?People
who are inventors ? are becoming more aggressive in
protecting their ideas,? said the senior partner at
Kaye Scholer, LLP, in New York. He noted that products and
information can travel around the world at incredible
speeds, raising the risk of ideas being copied.
The good news is that patents can be filed
simultaneously in the United States and other countries,
Seltzer said. But even those steps don?t completely
No wonder skeptics still abound. ?There are too
many ways around patents,? said Scott Cook,
president of Family Fun Corp. in Louisville, Ohio.
?If you get into different countries, do you really
think they?re going to honor our patent?
Realistically, what am I going to do? Get an attorney here
and an attorney there? It works for big corporations,
maybe, but not small ones like us.?
Still, most patents work. Less than 25 percent of the
infringements were willfully done, Seltzer noted. And
punishments are high. ?Enhanced damages are almost
always awarded in these cases,? he said.
But protection isn?t the only reason to get a
patent, said Adolph Kiefer, president of Adolph Kiefer
& Associates, who holds about 20 design patents of
his own. ?It shows that you?ve accomplished
a goal toward greater safety or saving lives, and
that?s mostly why I?ve done it,? he
said. ?It gives you an inspiration to do more.
It?s the challenge of creating new