Acushnet (through its Titleist brand) and Callaway are suing each other, alleging that each has violated the other’s patents on their tour level golf balls. This, after Callaway won just such a battle against Acushnet last year.
In that suit, Callaway prevailed on its claim that Titleist’s Pro V1 balls (the model known as the 2007 Pro V1) infringed on patents owned by Callaway. Acushnet is appealing that decision. Meanwhile, late in 2008, Acushnet provided a modified, clearly labeled Pro V1 that did not violate the patent, it said. Acushnet has already planned a 2009 model Pro V1 for release in February, and pros had already been working it into their games. Among other things, the 2009 model features a reformulated, more durable cover and a core that yields more yardage, Titleist said.
Now Callaway is saying that even the retooled Pro V1s, the models released for spring 2009, infringe on Callaway-owned patents. And Acushnet has fired right back, claiming that Callaway’s Tour i and Tour ix balls transgress Acushnet’s patent rights.
As with most patent suits, it will take a long time to sort out the claims. And whatever balls you have now from either company are perfectly legal under the Rules of Golf. But lest you think both companies are being overly litigious, keep in mind that in the patent world, you have to protect your rights aggressively, or you could lose them. There’s no selective enforcement of intellectual property rights. So clearly, both companies felt compelled to sue.
But it’s expensive, this litigation stuff, especially in this Brave New World of cost control and depressed economies. One wonders what protracted patent litigation might do to the competitive landscape. Titleist is far and away the leader with half of the domestic market (measured in dollars) in off-course shops. Bunched more tightly are the chasers, such as Bridgestone with nearly 17 percent (and a lot of momentum from its popular B330-RX ball over the last five months), Callaway/Top Flite at about 12 percent, Nike around 8 percent, and TaylorMade and related brands at about 6 percent.
What could happen on that leaderboard while Callaway and Titleist fight it out?