The patents around ski and snowboard technology

04 January 2016

As we welcome in 2016, some of us may be lucky enough to beat the post-Christmas blues by enjoying a snow holiday. With over 900,000 Britons taking a ski break last year and snow holidays increasing in popularity, we thought it would be interesting to look at the patenting activity in ski and snowboard technologies over the past few years to identify emerging trends and to see which companies are creating commercial IP around their innovation.

The long view from 1980 (Figure 1) shows that until the early 1990s almost all of the innovation was in ski technologies. After that we see an emerging innovation pattern in snowboarding technologies which starts to really take off during the mid-to-late 1990s.

The sharp rise in the number of patents published in 1997 appears to anticipate the introduction of snowboarding as a Winter Olympic sport in 1998. Although skiing R&D clearly outstrips snowboarding R&D in all years, the number of skiing-related patents seems to have settled at a lower level than we were seeing in the 1980s and 90s which may indicate that the technology has reached maturity and is becoming more difficult to innovate in. 

Graph of number of patent families published per year in ski and snowboard technologies from 1980 to 2012

Figure 1. Number of patent families published per year in ski and snowboard technologies from 1980 to 2013 (source: HL Analytics)

Figure 2 shows the top 20 companies to have filed ski and snowboard technology patents over the last 10 years. The landscape is dominated by a small number of mainly European and American companies with French manufacturers Salomon and Rossignol way out in front. Snowboarding is a truly international sport and has a large following outside of Europe and America. 

Graph of Top 20 patenting companies in skiing/snowboarding technologies 2004 to present

Figure 2. Top 20 patenting companies in skiing/snowboarding technologies 2004 to present (source: HL Analytics)

So what exactly are these companies patenting? There is a formidable array of clever developments across every aspect of ski and snowboard equipment and activity including:

  • Ski and snowboard materials and construction: now lighter, stronger and more flexible than ever before
  • Bindings, fastenings and release mechanisms: getting stronger, more flexible and quicker/easier to operate
  • Helmets, visors and goggles: incorporating cameras, communication and audio systems and sat nav features
  • Impact protection devices: wrist and knee guards, spine protectors and body suits designed to protect the fragile human skeleton in the event of a wipe-out.
  • Ski wear: developments in thermal protection, wicking, waterproofing and electronic warming devices. Even the good old ski long-johns have been given a technology make-over and are now the subject of numerous compression and materials patents. 
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