Patenting a Kickboard

Did Speedo Patent it’s New Kick Board?

New kickboard with superior buoyancy?

New kickboard with superior buoyancy?

We recently published an article on patenting swimming gear.  Swimming gear can range from pool equipment (like lane lines, starting blocks, etc.) to training devices (like kickboards, hand paddles, and goggles).  Just like other technology, swimming gear can be patented.  The only restriction is that it must be new and not simply an “obvious” variation on existing swimming gear.  Today, we saw a post from Speedo on Facebook, advertising a “new” kickboard – the Speedo Elite Kickboard.
Here is a video on YouTube, featuring Dan Bullock, discussing the Speedo Elite Kickboard:

As noted in the video, the Speedo Elite Kickboard was “engineered” to isolate the upper body.  It was also “designed” to aid development of upper body technique.
Given that Speedo seems to have invested significant research dollars in designing and engineering a new kickboard, we were curious as to what advances Speedo made in kickboard technology.
Speedo's new elite kickboard goes "a step beyond" the prior art kickboards

Speedo’s new elite kickboard goes “a step beyond” the prior art kickboards

According to Amazon’s review “this particular kickboard had been engineered for optimum buoyancy.”  Noting that “[t]he aim of all kickboards is to improve leg strength and technique,” Amazon distinguished the Speedo Elite kickboard on account of its “ergonomic design,” which ensures the perfect position in the water.  The shape and design also apparently improve comfort by supporting the users arms during use.
Given the above described advantages, it seems curious that Speedo did not patent this kickboard.  Given that the “Elite Kickboard provides superb buoyancy in the water, allowing every swimmer to focus more easily on improving their technique,” one would imagine that the product could be distinguished based on it’s density and potentially the material used to manufacture it.

New, Different Things Can be Patented

Given how Speedo describes the Elite as a “new” design, having superb properties, it seems that the technology would have been patentable at the time it was invented.  In order for Speedo to have protected its invention, the company would have needed to draft a patent application having claims that emphasized the unique features of the invention.  Here, the shape and buoyancy appear to be points of distinction.  Good claim drafting would emphasize those features as a means for distinguishing the new technology from the prior art.

One Year Time Limit for Patenting

Unfortunately, our further research show that Speedo’s “new” kickboard really isn’t that new.  Speedo published an article in their newsroom with a picture of the Elite in February of 2011. In the United States, an inventor has one year to file a patent application after disclosing it to others.  Here, that one year window has closed.  Hopefully Speedo filed a patent application within one year after disclosing the invention.  However, the packaging does not provide any clues as to the patent status or application number(s).
In contrast to Speedo, the Kiefer Company have demonstrated how to effectively protect its kickboard inventions by filing a patent application.  Here is an article discussing Kiefer’s Core Kickboard.

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