Is a questionable patent slowing down the e-Foil trend?

There is a big hype about electric hydrofoils these days. Multiple commercial and DIY projects are described in our e-Foil section.

A lot of time and money is spent from hundreds of enthusiastic people to form a new sport and potentially a new way of travelling.

In October 2013 Prof. Jack W. Langelaan from Penn State University in Pennsylvania issued several patents around weight-shift controlled personal hydrofoil watercrafts.

e-Foil project Evolo
e-Foil project Evolo from 2009

The patents from Prof. Langelaan are described as:

“A passively stable personal hydrofoil watercraft that has a flotation device, wherein a user can ride in a prone, kneeling, or standing position. The watercraft includes a strut having an upper end interconnected with the flotation device and lower end connected with a hydrofoil. The hydrofoil greatly reduces the power required to travel at higher speed. The watercraft also includes a propulsion system connected to the hydrofoil. Both longitudinal and directional control of the watercraft is via weight shift, eliminating the need of any movable surfaces. The flotation device, strut, and hydrofoil may be permanently interconnected or may be detachable.”

Sources for 2013 e-Foil patents from Prof. Langelaan:

Of course, there is nothing wrong with patents. And if someone establishes great innovation he probably should be paid for it.

This should be however not the case if the innovation is already published at the time the patents are filed.

Already in 2009 Prof. Jakob Kuttenkeuler and Prof. Stefan Hallström, both from the Royal institute of technology, KTH, Stockholm in Sweden published their Evolo project which is proven by several publications.

Evolo project from 2009
Evolo project from 2009

With a group of 15 students Kuttenkeuler and Hallström started the electric hyfrofoil project in August 2008.

The goal was to design a vehicle which should be able to carry one person at 15 knots with an electric, environmentally sustainable and silent engine while not generating wakes. Steering should happen only by gravity movement.

After working for 2 semesters on this project the Evolo was tested and demonstrated in early 2009. At the same time the findings were published.

Evolo e-Foil publications from 2009:

  • Evolo project page from KTH University17, online since 2009
  • 551 page Evolo research report, published 2009
  • 23 Youtube videos about the Evolo project14, all public since 2009
  • Canadian Discovery “Daily Planet” coverage on May 9 2009
  • Public showing at the Stockholm International Boat Show 2010
  • Article published by Swedish boating magazine “Båtnytt” in Sept 2009, scanned article here
  • They even had info under their own domain evolo.se1, no longer active but you can find several snapshots on web.archive.org between 2010 and 2013.

This should be a valid proof for Prof. Jack W. Langelaan and the patent authorities that the patents are not valid.

Project evolo VT09 video published on Apr 13, 2009 YouTube play

The video above was published in 2009 as well.

The community of e-foil builders which are organized under efoil.builders is worried that the questionable patent will slow down innovation which would be bad for all of us.

Expensive license fees would make the e-Foils who are already challenged with expensive batteries and water-proof electronics even less affordable.

This would lead to less volumes which again keep the price high.

According to our sources from efoil.builders, Liftfoils, the makers of the efoil, lead by Nick Nelson has already signed an exclusive license agreement with Prof. Langelaan in order to sublicense the patents.

It seems that Liftfoils has already approached other vendors through a lawyer that a license would be necessary in order to release a commercial electric hydrofoil surfboard.

This would be bad in 2 ways. Not only do license fees apply, but they are also controlled by one e-Foil manufacturer which would be a competitive advantage and slow down innovation due to limited competition.

We shared this article incl. an interview of Jakob with Nick Leason and Prof. Langelaan in order to get their feedback.

Please read the interviews in the next part of the article.

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