Method in someone's patent madness

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Breach of patent has become a major problem in the international golf industry, where leading equipment manufacturers such as Callaway are finding it increasingly difficult to protect their goods against so-called rip-off merchants. But what if the patent applies not to a piece of equipment, but simply to a playing method? What then?

The notion is not as crazy as it sounds. As it happens, Dale Miller recently became the recipient of what is believed to be the first patent ever issued for a sports method in the US. Patent number 5,616,089 was granted for Miller's "Dominant Hand Putting Method".

It reminds me of the Irish Open at Mount Juliet a few years back, when Scottish professional Brian Marchbank talked about the so-called Bernhard Langer putting method. He claimed that the procedure of holding the putter-grip against the left forearm was pioneered not by Langer, but by his own father, Ian Marchbank.

Two years ago, a wrist injury left Miller unable to putt comfortably. So be devised a new grip whereby the club is held normally in the right hand while the left hand is clamped over the top of the right wrist. After regular use of the new method, he claimed his handicap came down from 15 to eight.

"The fact that this was the first sports-method patent didn't seem to matter to the Patent and Trademark office," said Miller, a Wisconsin attorney. "Perhaps they never thought of its significance in the sports world."

Meanwhile, golf industry experts are studying the implications of the decision. For instance, could John Daly patent his uniquely long backswing, or Isao Aoki his toe-in-the-air putting style? But Miller defends the patent by arguing that if songs, plays and movies can be protected by copyright, why not sports methods?

This country's Patent Office doesn't agree. According to its terms of reference, an invention can not be patented if it is a "method for performing a mental act, playing a game . . . ." or the "presentation of information".

It seems the shrewd US attorney could be aware of this overseas restriction. Which may explain why he is currently seeking a club manufacturer to produce and market his specially designed putter. This is 38-inches long and is supposed to function to optimum efficiency only through his technique. And yes, it is fully patented.

"If Bill Clinton is an eight handicap, I'm Bobby Jones." - Former US president George Bush, recently recalling how he had outplayed the incumbent White House golfing duffer during the 1995 Bob Hope Classic.

ArisinG out of last week's piece about Harry Bradshaw Jnr, I received a charming note from Sutton member Brian McKenna, who once had the pleasure of playing in his club's pro-am with The Brad. Our reader was reminded of an incident during the 1960s when he and Harry Jnr happened to be fellow employees of Menswear in Westmoreland St, not a million miles from the IT office.

It was a time when Christy O'Connor Snr was smartly turned out in Danus suits and The Brad preferred bold check sportscoats and plain trousers. Writes McKenna: "One day a middle-aged couple came in to have a jacket made to measure and Harry and I produced two large books of fabrics from which they could choose.

"The lady didn't like the first dozen or so, saying the colours wouldn't suit her husband. Whereupon the phone rang and Harry answered it, leaving me with the couple. Suddenly the lady exclaimed `Oh, there's a lovely fabric'. To which her man replied: `Jaysus no. That's like something Harry Bradshaw would wear'.

"Needless to say it was a big, bold check and when I informed them of my work-mate's identity, the rest of the business was conducted in hushed tones. I never told Harry the story, so this will be news to him."

AT 8.30am, the quiet of Sunday, October 16th, 1988 was disturbed only by anxious golfers, shuffling along the cobblestones of the slumbering, university town. According to John Redmond, it was dark and damp and "down at the revered course, the spiritual home of golf, they were swishing the heavy dew off the 18th green".

In his recently-published The Book of Irish Golf, this is how Redmond sets the scene of unfinished business at St Andrews in the Dunhill Cup. He goes on to describe the "hunched silhouette of Des Smyth on the practice putting green", while his adversary, Nick Faldo, was not far away, "practising pitching from 75 yards".

"Smyth was finding the timing and tempo for a 54ft 4 1/2 inch putt, meticulously measured out by his attentive caddy, John O'Reilly." History tells us that the Drogheda man duly beat Faldo in that unfinished semi-final match against England and that Ireland went on to capture the country's greatest golf team triumph since the Canada Cup of 1958.

Of course O'Reilly - now Padraig Harrington's caddie - was to share in another wonderful victory, at Kiawah Island two weeks ago. And those who may wonder about the amateur background of Harrington and his World Cup partner Paul McGinley, will find extensive information in Redmond's book.

Published last month by Gill and Macmillan at £19.99, this most handsome production is certain to become a much- cherished Christmas gift - especially now that Ireland's professionals have regained their pre-eminence in team golf.

One of America's most bankable movie-makers is about to discover whether his Midas touch extends to the golf business. And associations with "Dirty Harry" will be distinctly inappropriate when Clint Eastwood launches "Tehama", a new line in golf apparel in the New Year.

"We think it's a good-sounding name," said Eastwood of the old, American-Indian word (pronounced Te-hay-ma) meaning beautiful mountains and streams. As it happens, it is also the name of a golf course Eastwood is building in Carmel Valley, California.

Eastwood didn't look particularly elegant when last I saw him swinging at Pebble Beach, but one of his business partners claims that the garments will exemplify the "sense of style, sophistication and good living that Clint exudes". Now, who would have imagined a simple golf shirt possessing such magical properties?

I AM indebted to John Cussen of Newcastle West for some fascinating cuttings about the 1958 Canada Cup. They allowed me to draw some intriguing comparisons with events of 39 years ago.

For instance, Henry Longhurst wrote of a six-hour journey from Mexico City to New York and "six and a half hours direct from New York (to Prestwick) in the Comet."

My recent trip back from Charleston to London via Atlanta and Washington took a total of 16 hours. And the 1958 course measured 7,216 yards, compared with 6,833 at Kiawah Island.

This day in golf history . . . On December 6th 1953, a major step towards a happy marriage was made at the Havana Country Club in Cuba, where Bob Toski captured the Havana Open by a stroke. Toski, who makes only infrequent appearances on the US Seniors' Tour these days, was once among the longest hitters in the game, despite weighing only 8st 4lbs.

By the time he entered the Havana event, the 27-year-old had fallen in love with Lynn Stewart, though without the necessary financial security, he refused to consider marriage. A spectacular finish, however, brought about a dramatic change of heart.

Needing a birdie at the 380-yard 18th to win, Toski blocked his drive onto the adjoining 17th fairway. From there, he threaded a superb four-iron through a row of royal palms, moving it almost 40 yards left to right in the process, to eventually get within a few feet of the target. He made the putt, collected top prize of $2,000, married Lynn and they now have four grown-up children.

Teaser: In strokeplay, a competitor played a wrong ball at the 14th hole. He discovered the error after holing out. Before teeing off at the 15th, he asked a member of the committee as to the procedure. The committee member told the competitor to proceed and consult the committee when the round was completed, instead of telling him to rectify the error as prescribed in Rule 15-3. Should the player be disqualified as prescribed in Rule 15-3?

Answer: No. In the circumstances, the competitor should incur a penalty of two strokes for a breach of Rule 15-3, but the disqualification penalty which he also incurred under the rule should be waived by the committee under Rule 33-7.

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