Cedar Fair not worried about patent claims from Funtime

Posted Thursday, August 26, 2010 12:38 PM | Contributed by Jeff

Cedar Fair announced Tuesday that it bought four WindSeeker rides from Mondial. The Funtime Group, an Australian company, says the WindSeeker is based on its own StarFlyer ride. Cedar Fair says its contract with Mondial shields it from intellectual property suits.

Read more from The Sandusky Register.

Friday, August 27, 2010 1:13 AM

Here's the question I have...

I have not read the patent in question, but I did glance over the 46 claims. I do know that the claims are the most important part of the patent document (and the hardest to read) because the claims establish whatever is novel about the invention. Here, you can follow along by visiting the Patent and Trademark Office website at http://www.uspto.gov and do a patent number search for #7,666,103 (the USPTO web site is designed so that you can't just link to a patent).

The big one is Claim #1:

1. An aerial amusement ride comprising: (a) a column, extending from a base portion to a rider carrier support portion, said column comprising: (i) a plurality of elongated members; (ii) a plurality of struts, said elongated members being interconnected by said plurality of struts, said elongated members and said struts forming an open framework structure with open spaces defined by said elongated members and said struts, said elongated members defining at least one support surface, said support surface extending from points proximate said rider carrier support portion of said column to points proximate the base portion of said column, (b) a hub displaceably mounted on said column, said hub riding on said at least one support surface, whereby said hub may be displaced along said column, (c) a pulley mounted on said column above or proximate said rider carrier support portion, (d) a first drive motor, (e) a cable having a first point on said cable and a second point on said cable, said cable extending around said pulley, said cable being coupled at said first point on said cable to said hub and at said second point on said cable to said first drive motor, (f) a support structure mounted for rotation on said hub, (g) a plurality of rider carriers configured to support riders, and (h) a plurality of links secured to said support structure at one link end at a radial distance from the column and to said rider carriers at an other link end, said links allowing, upon rotation of said support structure and resultant movement of said rider carriers around the axis of said column, the rider carriers to move radially outwards from the column as the speed of rotation of said support structure increases.

Claims #2 through #35 either directly or indirectly reference this claim. Claims 36, 37, 39, 41 and 45 separately describe the ride in a similar fashion. Claim 43 is the only claim which does not either directly or by reference describe the column as being made up of a plurality of struts forming an open framework...etc. Claim 43 differs from the other claims in that it seems to talk about a rotating tower with a carrier section designed for anti-rotation using wheel pairs.

This is all well and good, but I notice several things that really make me go, "Hmmm." I don't know how patent law works, but my plain English read suggests that if Claim 6 says (as it does):

6. An amusement ride according claim 1, wherein said links comprise flexible suspension links.

I would expect that the exact wording of the enforceable claim would be the entire text of claim 1, with the remainder of claim 6 representing an edit to claim 1. For you programmers, think of "an amusement ride according to claim 1" as a macro for the entire text of claim 1. I don't know if it works that way, but I would reasonably expect that to be the case.

Well, if that is the case, then Mondial's ride is clearly NOT described at all by the patent, because according to the images we have seen, Mondial's tower is a solid cylinder! In the rendering showing the close-up of the riders it appears that there is a dedicated track running up the side of the tower and no sign of the anti-rotation mechanism described in Claim 43. If the patents work the way I think they do, then not only should the WindSeeker be pretty clear from any infringement on the Pondorfer/Petrie patent, it appears to be an entirely different ride altogether!

Even worse for Funtime, virtually every element of the tower design described sounds like it describes demonstrable prior art, including the basic tower design (which describes countless broadcast antennas) and the use of the tower itself as a track surface for a passenger carrier, which is basic to the design of the S&S tower rides. If every claim hinges on the survival of Claim #1, and Claim #1 gets thrown out as a claim of prior art, do they have anything left?

I think they took a gamble. They blew the lid off of the WindSeeker announcements thinking that they could mess up Cedar Fair's party and get away with it by forcing them to either buy a ride or a license. And it wouldn't cause them long-term damage because they would be the exclusive purveyor of this type of ride for the next 17 years (or whatever). But if the patent is challenged and suddenly becomes a worthless piece of paper, then Funtime has *nothing* to offer. Mondial has an alternative ride design, anybody can build a legal copy, and the Star Flyer is known to be built by a company that is difficult to work with. Way to destroy your best product and damage the whole company!

--Dave Althoff, Jr.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 11:46 AM

If people have a problem with breastfeeding in parks, what are they going to think of a "plurality of elongated members?"

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Friday, August 27, 2010 11:46 AM
staticman00's avatar

Nice work, Dave. After skimming it (since I'm at work and can't delve deeply) I would agree with your conclusion. It really seems like Funtime tried to mask what amounts to a tantrum under some flimsy patent claims that could describe any number of things in addition to their ride.


Riding is freedom.
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Friday, August 27, 2010 12:21 PM
Jerry's avatar

Does anyone know how Zamperla has gotten on with it's version of the Starflyer - they call theirs the "Vertical Swing". Is it licensed from Funtime? Why have I heard of no lawsuits to date if not?

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Friday, August 27, 2010 3:48 PM

And doesn't A.R.M. make one too?

http://www.armrides.com/Vertigo.htm

It's the one that klunked the guy in the head the other day .

Those seem infinitely more similar to Funtime's than Mondial's ever would. ARM's and Zamperlas both have rotating columns, though, which Funtime's doesnt.

Here is Zamperla's.

http://www.zamperla.com/en/product/105/vertical-swing.html?category_id=8

Last edited by RCMAC, Friday, August 27, 2010 3:53 PM
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Friday, August 27, 2010 4:05 PM
Jason Hammond's avatar

ARM's and Zamperla's both look pretty similar. Mondial's is the only one that seems to have it's own obviously unique characteristics.


854 Coasters, 34 States, 7 Countries
http://www.rollercoasterfreak.com My YouTube

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Friday, August 27, 2010 4:28 PM
Jeff's avatar

All the more reason that it seems strange that Funtime thinks it has a case.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Saturday, August 28, 2010 1:57 AM

Yeah, on the surface maybe they are trying to allege that the patent covers a Traver-style circle swing extended above 30m or 60m. But that doesn't appear to be the way the claims are written. Incidentally, there are some interesting variations in the claims, including something that sounds vaguely like a Bish-Rocco machine. Also, I think the oddball Claim 43 hints at a rotating tower.

To me, it looks like the Mondial ride is something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a StarFlyer. Meanwhile, Messrs. Bates and Zamperla both appear to have something that could be infringing. Although I wonder if they might be licensees...

--Dave Althoff, Jr.


    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____
/XXXXX\ /XXX\ /XXXX\_ /X\ /XXXXX\ /X\ /X\ /XXXXX
_/XXXXXXX\__/XXXXX\/XXXXXXXX\_/XXX\_/XXXXXXX\__/XXX\_/XXX\_/\_/XXXXXX

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