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Lacrosse Patents: Offset Heads & Waxed Mesh

0 - Published July 30, 2014 by in Featured, Gear, Technology

Lacrosse patents were not always a huge part of the game, but even back in the day, when everyone used a wooden stick, and gloves and padding were made from leather and old magazines rolled up and taped together, there was still a move to patent new advances in technology. Fewer people played the game back then, and the age of lawyers had not truly arrived, and lacrosse patents were less common and less required.

I am bringing up the Lacrosse Patents topic today because two different patentable products are about to change, and the impact on the game could be pretty notable… In fact, we’re seeing some pretty big changes already!

I have found lacrosse patents that relate to sticks going back as far as 1907, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised by the existence of even older legal work in this field. Lacrosse patents are not a new thing, and although they may have been somewhat limited in the past, they are an important part of our ongoing world. In the 1960s and 1970s, plastic entered the game and technology began to play an increased part in our sport, all as new manufacturers popped up and began producing equipment. It was around that time that the patent world kicked things up a notch.

To protect recent innovation, and to give themselves an edge in a burgeoning intellectual property war, manufacturers began to apply for extremely detailed lacrosse patents within the sport, and in broader contexts (sports in general). Newer technologies, like the offset head, were granted patents, but it didn’t stop there. Patents quickly extended to rectangular, circular, and hexagonal air vents on gloves, recessed stringing holes, floating cuffs, arm pad layering techniques, and materials used in construction of hard goods, amongst other things. Lacrosse patents had become a major player in the game.

While this patent frenzy protected manufacturers, it also helped drive the price of equipment up for the consumer, and made the sport of lacrosse slightly less accessible, because of increased costs associated with production. For example, a new company could manufacture an offset head, but they would have to pay a fee to the owner of the offset patent. If they used multiple lacrosse patents from different companies, they could pay multiple fees. This fee would be built in to the purchase price of the head, and the new manufacturer could then make their product, all the while paying money back to the owner of the offset patent, just for using their technology.

In case you were wondering how this works on a more concrete level, here is some insight into how this process often works:

Some companies do not enforce their own patents. They hire third party groups to investigate and potentially demand, or sue for, licensing fees. Basically, any new product is bombarded with any potentially relevant patent claims, and then they either pay the fees, or fight them. The third party group makes a commission off fees from patent matters in which they were involved. Bet you didn’t know that! Ok, back to the matter at hand.

As you may have guessed, one of the lacrosse patents I’m going to talk about today is the offset head.

The first head that really allowed the ball to sit lower than the axis of the shaft was created by Flip Naumburg in conjunction with Warrior Lacrosse. Flip’s name is on the original patent and so is Dave Morrow’s, of Warrior Lacrosse. The term they used was not actually “offset”, it was “scooped“. Within a short window of time, Brine had come out with the Edge, and that defined offset in another way. The year was 1997 when this patent was published.

(Check out this documentary on Flip Naumburg, below. It talks about how he invented to scooped head!)

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STX came up with their own answer to the “scooped/offset” issue, and they claimed their heads had a “cant” and not an offset. This seemed to work for canted shafts (and STX still rolls this tech out from time to time), but when it came to heads having a cant, there was considerable legal fighting.

So how long will all this last? Will New Balance/Warrior/Brine forever own the offset/scooped lacrosse patent market? No. Utility patents have a 20 year term, and design patents have a 14 year term. After that, it’s a much freer market, and the technology officially enters the realm of common knowledge, usable by almost anyone. Technology patents are most often utility patents.

(An interesting note: before June of 1995, utility patents only lasted 17 years. The Edge patent was filed on December 5, 1995, only five months after the patent life was extended to 20 years. The scooped head patent was filed on August 18, 1995, which extended its life for 3 additional years as well.)

Today, we are almost 20 years from that date, and that means the offset and scooped patents are about to expire. This means no more fees paid to the patent holders. It means a lower barrier to entry. It means a lot of things. It also means we’re going to see a lot of new heads continue to hit the market.

Just look at all the new heads, from new companies, that have been released recently. Epoch has released their Hawk head, which seems to skirt the patent rules in some ways. Traditional Lacrosse has released the Traditional and Nation heads. Thompson Lacrosse has released their i6… and I already know of at least three more “new” companies that plan on dropping their first offset heads this year or next year. SIX new heads from new companies in under 3 years, and it’s all happening around the time of this patent’s expiration. Coincidence? NO WAY.

lacrosse_patent_warrior_thompson

Now you’re probably wondering why I included Waxed Mesh in the title of this post, but haven’t talked about it yet. Maybe you can see where I’m going with this… if not, allow me to explain. Currently, there is no active US patent on waxed mesh that I could find, but all of that may be about to change.

Marc Mesh invented waxed mesh up in Canada back in 2008, well before ECD, Throne, Gonzo, Ninja, or PowLax waxed meshes existed, and they have owned a functioning patent on that process and product in Canada since 2010. They also own a US patent on the process of applying wax to mesh, and have had that since 2009. The big news as it relates to today is that Marc Mesh recently received approval for this product to be patentable in the US. This could mean a lot of different things, and I am beyond curious to see how it all plays out.

There is also a relatively new patent for a lacrosse wax application product, owned by LaxWax.

As far as I can tell (and I am not a patent lawyer), the Marc Mesh patent is broad, and applies to all different types of waxes. It also seems to stretch from total impregnation to simple coating. It applies to colored mesh, nylon mesh, and even some other materials. Could this be the offset head patent for the mesh world? We are all about to find out.

It could mean that American mesh companies will need to pay usage fees to Marc Mesh. It could mean production will stop (although that is unlikely). It could mean that US mesh companies will need to demonstrate that they use a different process, and that their product is different from Marc Mesh. It could mean a lot of different things.

The point here is that a good idea is going to be protected, especially when it becomes popular. We’ve seen it with offset heads, we’ve seen it with floating cuffs, and we’ve even seen it with different shaped vent holes cover for padding, which seems like borderline ridiculousness. How do you patent a shape? That’s crazy to me.

While I may think it’s crazy, it’s also reality. Did you ever wonder why Maverik started using circular vent holes? They own or got access to the patent for that. They don’t own the patent for rectangular holes. Someone else does. Could we see changes like this in the waxed mesh game? Considering it’s a major money maker, my guess is absolutely.

We’ll be back with more on the lacrosse patent world, and hopefully, our next post will be by someone who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do. But if you were wondering why we’re seeing so many lacrosse heads pop up right now, and how the waxed mesh product world could be impacted, this post is a really good start.

Questions? Comments? Ask away below in the comments and we’ll try to help you out. Notice something we got wrong? Fill us in! We’re always open to corrections!

Editor’s Note: Brine, Epoch, and Marc Mesh are all official partners of LAS. Connor, the author of this post is friends with Throne of String, East Coast Dyes, PowLax, Traditional Lacrosse, STX, and Thompson Lacrosse founders, owners, and employees. While no bias was intentionally delivered in this post, it is important to note that this media outlet has relationships with every single manufacturer named in the above article.

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