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Laser Class Fundamental rule change – All over with Kirby move

by Rob Kothe and the Sail-World.com Team on 16 Sep 2011
Laser World Championships 2010 © Paul Wyeth / RYA http://www.rya.org.uk
Since its launch at the New York Boat Show in 1971, over 200,000 Lasers have been sold. The strength of the class comes from its rigid one design rules that designer Bruce Kirby approved 40 years ago.

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. Six months ago Bruce Kirby gave his view on the ILCA's proposed fundamental rule change and explained why it would be a disaster. Now Kirby is retaking his design rights.


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. 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.

The deadline for all votes is 23rd September 2011. PLEASE DO NOT DELAY YOUR VOTE


When this document reached the Laser sailors computers world-wide there was a flood of positive votes, the US based Laser Forum site www.Laserforum.com first post was ‘This is a No brainer’, but quite quickly thereafter questioning began. It rapidly became clear that this was a much more complex issue than that which the ILCA stated.

Back when this happened we decided to talk to Bruce Kirby. ‘Two and a half years ago, I sold my rights to the New Zealanders, the Spencer families’ Global Sailing. I am 82 as you know, and this move was what you would call estate planning.

‘The Spencers have been building Lasers through Performance Sailcraft Australasia for umpteen years. I simply figured the Spencers had the good of the class in mind - far more so than anyone else that was on the horizon - and that they would do the best job in looking after the class and promoting it and enhancing it.

‘Now it would appear that Laser Performance Europe doesn’t want to recognize the fact that this transfer has taken place. It is really weird because they paid the royalties to Global Sailing for two years as they were supposed to do, and then all of a sudden they stopped doing that. That action has caused issues between LPE and Global Sailing and they will have to sort it out.’

What was his response to the ILCA statement ‘Lawyers also informed us that the Kirby design patent has in fact expired.’

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!’

What about the ILCA statement 'We also took legal advice the above rules changes where the only possible solution in order to promote the uninterrupted supply of class legal Laser boats' ?

Kirby again ‘That’s nonsense too because the Spencers, through Global Sailing, have virtually guaranteed an uninterrupted supply. They have allowed LPE to go ahead and produce boats even though they don’t have a proper contract at this time, but in order to keep an uninterrupted supply of boats Global has allowed them to continue producing without a contract.’

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

Kirby was firm on that suggestion. ‘Global Sailing owns those rights. 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 voting to set aside commercial rights that have been in force for 30 or 40 years. Can you imagine what would happen in a legal case?

‘I am amazed that this has come up. I made a very considered choice as to who I would like to look after the rights of the designer, builders and Laser sailors. I chose the Spencer family because they are long time builders. They are financially secure and have been dedicated sailors for generations. It’s not something I did lightly and I did it for the good of the class.’

Kirby summed up by saying ‘This proposed rule change would be a disaster for the Class. If Laser sailors have voted without knowing more than was in the ILCA 'Vote Yes' document, they should ask for their vote to be cancelled.

Now the need to vote seems to have evaporated with breaking news from Bruce Kirby on the afternoon of September 15th in New England.

Just a few minutes ago the Laser designer Bruce Kirby told Sail-World:

‘We are very close (within days or hours) of having the Laser design rights reverted to me.

‘That would simply reverse the arrangement I had with Global Sailing in New Zealand.

‘I’m convinced that this move will be best for the Class and all concerned.

‘I’m expecting too that my resumption of responsibilities to the Class, ISAF and particularly to all Laser sailors, will make it unnecessary for the Class to proceed with the proposed (Fundamental) rule change.’


What is our take on this down under, across the International Date line, its a beautiful Friday morning in Australia and New Zealand - The Sail-World Team and Laser sailors everywhere can shout 'Thank God Its Friday!!

Sail-World.com will be seeking reactions from the key players and we will have more in the coming days.

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