The Local Knowlege

Gear & Equipment

New groove ideas not so easy

Golf patents are a dangerous thing. And I'm not just talking about the lawsuits that ball companies might throw at one another over arcane language about the relative hardness of one cover versus another. I'm talking about patents that suggest something might be possible when it's clearly not.

Take for instance a new groove pattern patent issued to Bridgestone recently and detailed by the golf patent wizard Dave Dawsey at golf-patents.com. While the groove rule has produced a flurry of activity in ways to make the face somehow regain some of the potential lost spin brought about by the more restrictive groove guidelines that went into effect in 2010, that activity sometimes goes beyond what the rules allow.
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Bridgestone's new pattern patent proposes to increase backspin by essentially extending the angle and the edges of the groove above the flat surfaces between grooves. Nifty? Yes. Unique? Probably? Conforming? Uhhh, no.

While it seems clear that the Bridgestone patent does well to cover the measurement specifications of the new rule regarding the width and volume of the grooves, the angle of the edges and the spacing between the grooves, it overlooks one key stipulaton. In the Rules of Golf, under section 5 (i) in Appendix II (Design of Clubs), there exists the phrase: "Grooves must not have sharp edges or raised lips." Even to an untrained eye like mine, these would appear to be raised lips.

This example is not meant to demean the effort of Bridgestone to make an effort to improve face performance. Their efforts are no less creative or thoroughly pursued than any other major manufacturer. It's inspiring, in a way, because it clearly shows how equipment companies aren't simply going through the motions to achieve some predetermined marketing objective. It does show, though, that the idea of a vast and easily accessible technology cornucopia of performance-enhancing workarounds to the groove restrictions aren't so easily achieved. 
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But it makes me wonder another thing, something that says a lot more about patents and the golf business than it says about USGA rules. If even I can tell this groove pattern is nonconforming, why would Bridgestone seek a patent? Is it a desire to pursue the manufacture and sale of non-conforming clubs? Is it a way of holding space in case there's a change in heart among golf's ruling bodies to loosen the rules for equipment for average golfers? Or is it something even more complex, the idea of patenting one fragment of an idea as depicted generally in this groove pattern that could be the foundation for some future product's features?

Bridgestone declined comment at this time on the patent. 

As we've seen from the patent office before, a lot of ideas are possible (more patents are issued for golf than any other sport). Not a lot of them end up as fully formed products, though. Especially ones that are non-conforming. At least that's always been the case before.

--MIke Stachura
Follow me on Twitter @MikeStachura
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