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Drama ahead as Fundamental Rule Change approved by Laser Class Members

by Rob Kothe & the Sail-World Team on 30 Oct 2011
Laser Masters Worlds 2011 Chuck Lantz © http://www.ChuckLantz.com
A major sports political development may have ramifications for One Design Dinghy sailiing world wide, with the Laser Class President Heini Wellmann and Class Executive Secretary Jeff Martin announcing that after a vote by International Laser Class membership to change the class rules, they will be applying to ISAF to have that change ratified.

Early this year the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) asked its membership to immediately vote YES on a fundamental rule change, probably the most important one in the history of the class. It would have a major change on the class structure.

In a document distributed to ILCA members worldwide the Laser Class Association amongst the arguments for voting Yes said – ‘a builder also needs a building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc. (the original designer of the Laser..ed) This provision is mostly historical. The rule was instituted at a time when Bruce Kirby held certain design rights. The ILCA is not a party to any of these 'Kirby' agreements.

‘We also took legal advice. We understand this is the only possible solution in order to promote the uninterrupted supply of class legal Laser boats and to maintain ILCA in its current set-up. The lawyers also informed us that the Kirby design patents had in fact expired.

‘Therefore, we are proposing to change the rule to eliminate the 'building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc' requirement.'

Today, Laser Class President Heini Heini Wellmann and Class Executive Secretary Jeff Martin released the following statement.

Fundamental Rule Change - voting results

International Laser Class Association: results of fundamental rule change voting

After the approval by the World Council and the Advisory Council on March 7th 2011 a change in the fundamental rule of ILCA was submitted to the member for voting on March 23rd 2011 with following explanation:

This rule change if ratified by ISAF will have major affects on One Design classes world-wide.

This rule change proposes to eliminate the 'building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc.' requirement.

Manufacturers who have trademark rights and who build in strict adherence to the ILCA Rules and to the Construction Manual, which is controlled by ILCA, will continue to have the right to build Class legal boats.

Discussions on the different web forums during the 6 months voting period showed that there were some misunderstandings on certain element of the proposed rule change. These were attempted to be clarified by the ILCA President with a statement of 19 September 2011, which was published on the International Class web site and circulated to all National Laser Associations:

In September the ILCA President wrote to the membership world wide 'Under the current ILCA Class Rules a valid builder agreement is required between the 'design rights holder' and the licensed Laser builder.

'Who the owner is of the design rights is unimportant in this context. Since the licence agreement with Laser Performance Europe has been terminated, only a new (or the renewal of the old) licence agreement between the 'design rights holder' and Laser Performance Europe would solve the issue and potentially make the rule change unnecessary.

'ILCA has always preferred a peaceful solution. If all three parties are close to agree on a solution, we will not stay in their way and give them reasonable time to conclude their negotiations on a new licence agreement with Laser Performance Europe.'


Today they reported 'Unfortunately, up until today no new licence agreement between the 'design rights holder' and Laser Performance Europe has been signed or is close to an agreement, nor has the old agreement been confirmed by all parties concerned.

Result of the membership vote:

The voting for the change to the Laser Class Fundamental Rule and other Technical Rule Changes closed at midnight Friday 23 September 2011. Thereafter the votes were verified for membership validity by each District or Region. The results were then audited by an independent audit firm, which reported 1017 ‘yes’ votes (89,3%) and 122 ‘no’ votes (10,7%), showing that over two thirds of the voting members approved the rule change as required by the ILCA Class Rules, part five, article 30(c).

Therefore we will seek the approval of ISAF within the next few days as required by the ILCA Class Rules, part five article 30(d).


Under ILCA rules, the amendments to these Rules shall be approved by each of:

a. the World Council,

b. the Advisory Council,

c. at least two thirds of the membership replying in writing to the International Office of the Class in response to a postal ballot published by the International Office of the Class. Only those postal votes returned to the International Office within six months from the date of publication of the rule change shall be valid, and

d. the ISAF.

However it seems that this may be a much more complex issue than that which the ILCA stated.

To the earlier ILCA statement that ‘Lawyers also informed us that the Kirby design patent has in fact expired’ Bruce Kirby responded ‘That’s total bull s--t! There never were any patents. You can't patent a sail boat design. These were contracts, legitimate contracts drawn up by lawyers and there is no suggestion that I had a patent on the boat. These were long term contracts that were renewable every so many years. No-one’s ever questioned them so I don’t know what lawyer they found that suggested this course of action. It’s crazy!’

Asked about the pre-vote ILCA statement 'Therefore, we are proposing to change the rule to eliminate the 'building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc' requirement' Kirby said ‘If this rule change was to come into play, it would be a disaster - to suddenly expose all designers who want to have international Class boats to a major legal precedent.

‘Just imagine that with the 49er, the J Boats, the Farr designs, all kinds of people, all kinds of designers.

‘Imagine an International Class succeeding, with the help of ISAF, in setting aside commercial rights that have been in force for 30 or 40 years. Can you imagine what would happen in a legal case?’

This week the ILCA World Council will be meeting, Kirby's last sentence possibly a factor in discussions.

If the material provided by Heini Wellman and Jeff Martin to the ILCA voters was in fact not accurate, as Kirby forcibly suggests then where to from here?

What do Julian Bethwaite, the Johnstones and Bruce Farr think about this development?

It has been alleged by some influential members of the ILCA, not in favour of this rule change, that ISAF has previously let it be known that this change was unlikely to be ratified by ISAF. Now it seems we will discover if this is in fact the situation.

It seems the saga is likely to continue for some time to come.
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