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Dave webber wave pool

Webber's concept of the wave pool. Artwork: Paul Roget


The Inertia

The race to come up with the world’s first working, circular wave pool has taken a new twist, with Kelly Slater’s Wave Company well on the way to being granted a US Patent for their contentious design.

Recent media speculation had suggested Slater’s wave pool design copied or infringed on the patent held by Greg Webber. It was widely reported that Slater’s patent application had been rejected three times for being too similar to Webber’s.

Yesterday, the Kelly Slater Wave Company released a statement announcing:

“The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has been examining KSWC’s initial application in a normal process against known prior art to determine proper claim scope and breadth. Rejections are frequently part of the normal patent application process with the USPTO. Even Mr. Webber’s initial application was rejected under similar premises. However, as of November 22, 2011, KSWC has received notice from the USPTO that the overwhelming majority of claims in its patent application have been allowed.”

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KSWC vice president Noah Grimmett elaborates: “Out of 21 claims in our application; 18 were allowed, two were objected to on informalities and one claim was rejected.”

While this appears to clear the way for Slater’s technology to go to market, there is a fascinating back story to all this.

What hasn’t been widely reported is that a Florida man, Kevin Roberts, also holds a patent for a circular wave pool and had worked closely with Slater and Quiksilver on the concept back in 2006.

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“Quiksilver and I entered into an option agreement February 8th, 2006. It was a three-year option that was supposed to include a consulting agreement for my services,” says Roberts. “Quiksilver and Kelly hired a wave scientist from the University of Southern California to perfect my design and I was completely left out from that point on. They let the option agreement expire and at the appropriate time it will be determined if patent infringement is an issue.”

Roberts came to public attention largely through a slightly comical Youtube clip in which he demonstrates a scale model of his “Surf the Ring” design.

Slater acknowledges the collaboration with Roberts but says he decided to take his project in a different direction. “My excitement for this idea originally came from Kevin Roberts (Surf the Ring) with whom we had a multi-year deal but it became evident very early on in testing (when we stumbled on the Solitary Wave idea) that his technology was not in the direction that we were hoping to go so we parted ways when our licensing agreement ran out,” says Slater.

The idea of a circular wave pool in itself is nothing new. US inventor Arnold Forsman patented a circular wave pool design as far back as 1975, but when that patent expired the idea entered the public realm. It is the method of wave generation that is critical in the patents of all three recent designs.

Roberts says he came up with his idea in 2001 and, like Webber, was inspired by watching boat wakes breaking along the banks of a river. “I thought how great it would be if we could just scale up the size of the waves,” Roberts says.

But he sees no conflict with the Webber design and accepts they simply came up with their designs independently. “I really don’t know but I don’t think he got the idea from me. Greg contacted me in August of 2005, which is about four years after I started. I like Greg and wish him well,” said Roberts.

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Roberts says he met Florida surfer/shaper Matt Kechelle at the Surf Expo in Orlando Florida, who saw his scale model and put him in touch with Slater.

“Kelly contacted me by email and he was very excited. He had seen my youtube prototype and he wanted to know if it was real,” says Roberts. “He and I emailed back and forth for months before he got Bob McKnight (CEO of Quiksilver) involved.”

According to Roberts, McKnight then organized a meeting of surf industry figures to view the scale model of his invention. He says the meeting took place on March 31, 2006, at Dana Point Oceanographic Institute, where Roberts demonstrated his prototype to an audience of industry heavyweights, including Santiago Aguerre, Dick Baker, Sean Collins, Troy Eckert, Tony Hawk, Marty Hoffman, Thom Lochtenfeld, Rob Machado, Al Merrick, Pat O’Connell, Pat O’Neill, Kelly Slater, Graham Stapleberg, Shaun Tomson, and Bob McKnight.

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