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Breaking News- Laser Class – Contracts signed and Kirby is back

by Rob Kothe and the Sail-World.com Team on 23 Sep 2011
Are smoother waters expected for the Laser Class now the Old Master is back in town? Chuck Lantz http://www.ChuckLantz.com
Breaking News - Bruce Kirby has now taken back the Laser Design rights. The ink is drying on the contract returning the Laser design rights to the 82 year old Laser designer.

He has just advised 'I signed the contract this morning. The design rights have reverted to me. I am hoping now that the ILCA will drop the whole idea of a rule change, and I will be taking steps immediately to get the confusion over builders and builders' plaques straightened away. I have confidence that I will have class and ISAF support with this.

'It's been a long drawn out hassle, but the door is now wide open for the class and builders to come together for the benefit of all concerned, and especially Laser sailors worldwide.'

A Global Sailing representative in Auckland has just confirmed a few minutes ago to Sail-World by phone that the contract has been signed at both ends and the contract has been finalised.

Back to some history...

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.

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


However soon after that, 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.

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!’

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. ‘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?

Now the need to vote seems to have evaporated with breaking news from Bruce Kirby on the evening of September 22nd in New England.

As recent written advice from ISAF to the ILCA had according to informed sources, already rejected the proposed rule changes, the confirmation that Kirby is now seeking to bring the parties together, will it seems remove any argument that the ILCA has a role to play in this matter.

Public confirmation or otherwise by the ILCA of the receipt of this advice from ISAF has been sought by numbers of players, but at this time there has been no response.

More news as it comes to hand.

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