U.S. Senate considers hull design protection bill

WASHINGTON – Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate this week will give lawmakers another chance to address “hull splashing,” a process used to copy a competitor’s hull designs, by closing a loophole in current law that will protect research and innovation, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reported in a release yesterday.

The legislation is similar to companion bills in the previous Congress, which passed both the House and Senate, but failed to become law because of minor differences in the wording that were not reconciled in the final hours before Congress adjourned last December, NMMA said.

“Protecting the time and resources invested in technology and research to improve our products is an important component for our manufacturers to remain competitive in the global marketplace,” said Thom Dammrich, president of NMMA.

Hull splashing is a copycatting process where an infringer makes a mold from another manufacturer’s vessel hull and then uses the mold to manufacture copies. Congress responded by passing the VHDPA in 1998, but a lack of clarity in the Act’s language created confusion as to when a boat design was protected, and a resulting court case exposed a loophole in the law, NMMA said.

The legislation, S. 1640, was introduced Monday by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and cosponsored by Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and John Cornyn (R-Tex.). It would close this loophole by clarifying current vessel hull design protection laws with a clear definition of a hull and deck in the judicial process. If enacted into law, the measure would stop companies that “splash” a competitor’s protected hull, only make changes to the deck, and then escape violating copyright laws, NMMA said.

“This bipartisan legislation provides the necessary assurance to boat manufacturers that the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act will remain a vital intellectual property protection statute,” Senator Leahy said while introducing the legislation on the Senate floor. “This legislation will ensure that there will be continued innovation in the design and manufacture of boats for many years to come.”

“The legislation introduced by Senators Leahy, Kohl, Whitehouse, and Cornyn will benefit the nation’s boat builders and ensure job protection for their 116,000 employees who manufacture the best recreational boats in the world,” Dammrich said. “The NMMA will urge the Congress to finish the job they started and pass this bill.”

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