Vans And Switch Sue Over Binding Infringement

Vans and its step-in binding company Switch filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California on March 9 against various companies and individuals including Buzrun, Innova Concepts, Inc., Global Sports, Gen-X Holdings, Lamar Snowboards, James Salter, and Jin W. Chung.

The lawsuit alleges patent and trade dress infringement of Switch's patented Autolock step-in bindings and unfair competition.

The suit was brought about because binding manufacturer Buzrun, as well as Global Sports' Lamar Snowboards, were selling a binding that looked similar to the Switch Autolock system at the SIA show in Las Vegas.

In fact, this is the second year Buzrun has shown the binding system, but this year the company also signed a distribution agreement with Global Sports-which owns Gen-X Holdings and Lamar-to sell and distribute the same binding in North America. Salter, who was one of the founders of Ride Snowboards and is well known for his off-price snowboard business, works for Global Sports.

According to Dan Adams, chief operating officer of Switch, the company didn't pursue any legal action against Buzrun in the United States last year because they felt Buzrun didn't have any domestic distribution.

But since Buzrun and Global Sports-through Lamar Snowboards- was selling to retailers this year, they had to do something.

But the issue goes even further. Adams says that the same binding system, which is being made by the Korean company, has been sold and distributed in Japan for more than a year, and that Switch has been trying to prevent them from doing so. However, Switch has not been granted a patent for the binding system in Japan, so it's been unable to take Buzrun to court.

However, Switch does hold patents in the U.S. at this time, and decided to address the problem here when it developed.

“Vans and Switch Manufacturing will aggressively protect our products against patent infringements or any infringement of our intellectual property,” says Dan Adams, chief operating officer of Switch. “It's important for us to address infringements in order to sustain our position within the snowboard and core sports industry.”

Innova Concepts, Inc. couldn't be reached for comment at press time.

Kenneth Finkelstein, president and chief financial officer of Global Sports Action Sports Division and Off-price Business, says that his company took steps to make sure there wouldn't be a problem distributing the binding system. “We're a middle man in this deal,” he says. “We're the master distributor of the system in North America. When Buzrun approached us, they gave us a fifteen-page document from a reputable law firm that said there was no infringement with the Switch system.”

Global Sports signed the deal to distribute the system on February 2. Global wanted to offer the system because it's a good step-in system that was priced for its customers, which are middle of the market, price-value consumers, according to Finkelstein.

He says there was no intention of wrongdoing by Global Sports. “We didn't willfully infringe on it the patent. We're doing our homework now, and our lawyers are doing due diligence on it. But we're not trying to hurt anyone and we're not looking to step on any toes.”

Vans acquired Switch Manufacturing in July, 1998. Global Sports bought Gen-X more than a year ago, while Gen-X purchased Lamar last year.

SNOWboarding Business will be following this story and posting updates on our Web site Stouffer