It sucks when you spend a lot of resources developing a technology, only to have someone come along and rip off your idea. Which is why Burton Snowboards files for a lot of patents. For example, Burton Snowboards innovated 3D binding technology in 1992. It represents the ultimate in co-development between bindings and snowboards, allowing for over 38 million stance options. So, Burton filed for patents around the world.

Some people weren’t happy with that, and tried to either just steal the idea quietly, or steal the idea and challenge it in court. These weren’t techno Robin Hoods, either. The people trying to take 3D away from Burton are holders and enforcers of their own patents, and are in it for the money as much as anybody. On March 12, 2000, the European Patent Office dismissed one such opposition to Burton’s European patent on 3D. As a result, 3D stands protected in Europe, as well as in the US and around the world.

Now the courtroom drama begins. Burton has filed suit in Burlington, Vermont, against Switch Manufacturing for violation of the 3D patent. Switch sells 3D-compatible bindings, as do many other manufacturers that are licensed by Burton. Switch wouldn’t sign the deal. It gets even more complicated in that Vans (Switch’s parent company) and Northwave (a licensee of Switch) have also been hauled into court because their boots infringe on another Burton patent.

How does this affect the individual rider? One, companies like Burton need to know that their innovations belong to them, otherwise, why spend money to innovate when your competitors can just steal your ideas for free? And two, when companies do cooperate (with something like 3D, or even Switch’s binding system) riders get more quality options from equipment that is legitimately compatible. It’s ironic that a company like Vans/Switch which licenses its own technologies (like Switch-compatible boots) has such a problem with Burton’s license for 3D. You’d think they’d see right away the importance in protecting one’s idea. But now it seems they only see it one way: they can have your ideas, but you can’t have theirs. The courts will decide sometime in 2002.