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Slater makes waves with plans for artificial surf
Following on from his record-breaking 11th world surfing title, Kelly Slater has launched upon another challenge with a rivalry-igniting patent for an artificial surf wave.
In 2008, Slater launched the Kelly Slater Wave Company (KSWC) with the goal of "making a world-class surfing experience accessible to the sport's enthusiasts across the globe."
Aware that wave pools, as opposed to synthetic wave simulators, have failed to re-create the conditions surfers' desire, Slater, promised that his company would create "ocean-type waves" for surfers of any skill level.
However, late last year Slater released a promotional video (which can be viewed by clinking on the link below) in which he claims "this is the future. This is the wave I've been dreaming of my whole life."
Despite the media attention, Slater's wave making venture seemed to reach an impasse when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected his patent application, first filed in 2008, three times.
Australian Greg Webber, best known for his eponymous surfboard company that once sponsored Taj Burrow, already held patents in the USA, Australia, China and Japan for a design similar to Slater's.
Webber Wave Pools and KSWC's designs both feature a donut-shaped pool encircling an island with waves breaking around the island. The patentable aspect lies in the source of the waves: a hull, or 'foil' that displaces water and sends out a wake that forms a sustained wave. Webber's creates two waves per hull while Slater's forms one.
Slater distinguishes his wave as a "soliton"(solitary wave) similar to groundswell, opposed to Webber's Kelvin subcritical waves, which are more reminiscent of wind swell or a boat wake.
Webber's company are understood to have made a soliton wave while testing designs at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in 2006, but did did not attempt to patent that particular design because of financial constraints.
In response to the patent developments, Webber told US media"it's not like he's won a battle or I've won a battle. He's highlighted a point that they're really going after a slightly-different type of wave.
"I can't see it being negative. It's a blessing in a way that we now have two different approaches."
Webber said that in two years his company, like Slater's, could create a functional wave pool, if a client provided the necessary financial commitment, adding "it is a bit of a race, but the techniques are totally different."
Despite the potential competition, Webber believes he and Slater hold common goals and may cooperate in the future, concluding "Kelly and I will work together in the future, I'm almost sure of it. We are tied by that same motivation to do something amazing."
Considering Slater's taste for competition, surfing commentators consider it unlikely that he will submit to a cooperative venture.
Surfing website SwellNet has suggested that "since applying for a patent in 2008 Kelly Slater and his business partner, Adam Fincham, have twice been rejected because their wave pool infringes upon Greg Webber's design. In both of their attempts - first in 2008 then again this year - the response from examiners at the US Patent Office has been identical: the design submitted by the Kelly Slater Wave Company is 'unpatentable over Webber.'
While Webber seems laidback about the competition issue, SwellNet suggest that "Slater is known to be an astute businessman and his will to win has garnered him an unbelievable 11 world titles, yet getting the first wave pool in the ground appears a race he cannot win."
Slater responded in The Inertia stating "first off, the patent process is a trying one. Something like 98% of patents are rejected in the first attempt. Webber’s original was actually rejected, but this was not mentioned in the SwellNet article."
Slater added "there are clear differences in our technologies, and even Webber is aware enough about that to have modified and re-applied for a patent to include the core idea exclusive to our technology which is a 'Solitary Wave'."
To view the technology go to www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yNHmzmFT7AA
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