Beacon wars: Ortovox vs Mammut

That's the Mammut Pulse Barryvox avalanche transceiver on the left and the Ortovox S1 on the right. Courtesy photo

On Oct. 14, a German court decided that Mammut's Pulse Barryvox avalanche beacon violated patent infringement laws against rival company Ortovox's S1 beacon. Mammut is appealing the verdict.

The patented Ortovox S1 uses magnetic compass signals to make it easier and quicker for searchers to find multiple buried victims in an avalanche. The S1 beacon also displays the direction of the receiving signal in 360 degrees and if the searcher moves in the wrong direction, it's indicated instantly, without delay, which few other transceivers do.

According to Wildsnow.com, in 2005, Ortovox debuted the design for its then-revolutionary S1 beacon. But the product was delayed until 2007. During that time, in 2006, Mammut came out with the Pulse Barryvox, which had many of the same high-tech features as the S1.

Mammut doesn't see it quite like that. "Both devices were developed in the same time period and both represent the highest technical state of the art," says a press release issued by Mammut. "The patent conflict developed from independent and secret attempts by both companies to develop features which offer the highest possible safety to customers."

Ortovox filed the case in German court several years ago, but it just came to resolution this month.

The court declared that Mammut is required to remove all Pulse Barryvox transceivers from their German stores and they must change the signal technology before they can begin selling the device again in Germany. Mammut must also pay Ortovox for compensation and pay the legal fees of the lawsuit.

The ruling is only applicable to the German patent, so no North American retailers will be affected at this time. Ortovox does have the patent elsewhere in Europe, as well as in Canada and the U.S., and according to Ortovox CEO Gerald Kampel, who issued a press release on Oct. 15, "More patent lawsuits are to be expected if there is no agreement between Ortovox and Mammut."

However, according to Mammut, "The valid Ortovox patents in the remaining European countries and in the USA are significantly different than the German patent." According to Mammut's legal advisers, the Pulse Barryvox does not infringe upon the patents outside of Germany.

What's most important for North American skiers? Whether you're using an S1 or a Pulse Barryvox in the backcountry, there's no need to be alarmed. "In the United States, Mammut will continue to sell, service and support the Pulse Barryvox as we have for the past five years," says Mammut's press release, "with no change to our long-term commitment to the safety of our customers or to the professionals who rely on our products every day."