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Arctic Cat vs. Ski-Doo: It’s A Draw

By Stephen King

Over about the past few years, one of the more interesting aspects of our sport has been the legal battle between two giants — Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo (aka Bombardier Recreations Products or BRP).

The fight started back in late 2011 when BRP went to court in Canada, alleging that Arctic Cat had infringed on its “pyramidal design.” BRP did this in Canada because they are a Canadian company.

The case then played out in the Canadian court. In about 2015, the court ruled in favor of BRP. They agreed with three out of the four suits BRP had brought forth regarding patent infringement.

This battle then continued. It reached another major point in 2017. At that time, the court’s rule granted BRP the win. That decision would have cost Artic Cat about $2.8 million in damages. It also forbid Arctic Cat or any of its Canadian dealers from selling, making or using any of the models in question in Canada. Of course, Arctic Cat appealed, and the battle continued.

Still playing on their home court, this past summer BRP won another portion of its case. A Canadian court again sided with the company and granted it the win. Although exact details were not completely released, what the Canadian court basically granted was that Arctic Cat could no longer sell snowmobiles in Canada without paying Bombardier a royalty. The suit granted what was about a 1% royalty on all sleds sold after 2014, which came under the lawsuit. This would have been in addition to the $2.8 million.

With that, and before, there was much talk this would be the end of Arctic Cat. However, most of that talk seems to be just rumors. Insiders were saying that Arctic Cat would survive. However, this would have been a huge financial blow to Arctic Cat. This would have cost them millions of dollars.

Now, for Round Two: the U.S. battle. Arctic Cat planned to retaliate with a similar lawsuit. This time on U.S. soil. Also, an inside source told me that most parties thought they had a very good chance of winning this suit — and getting a similar settlement in the U.S.

With this as a backdrop, a press release was issued on Nov. 2, 2020. It said, in part, that the two parties have reached a settlement: BRP and Arctic Cat “have reached a global settlement of the ongoing intellectual property disputes between them. Under the terms of the confidential agreement, the two court cases still active in the U.S. and in Canada will be dismissed.”

It also said, “Arctic Cat and BRP have pledged to continue to work together for the betterment of the industry and expansion of the snowmobile industry for all riders and associations.”

Basically, I think it said the game was a draw. Both sides saw that each could make the other bleed. With this revelation, both sides just agreed to drop their respective suits and try to play nice again.

However, the back story on this gets just a bit more interesting. Both of these industry giants were fighting about the new design for snowmobiles — the basic A-frame engine forward, high travel shocks in the rear-end design that sleds started having a few years back.

What was left out of this argument was the fact that neither Arctic Cat nor Bombardier, Polaris or Yamaha were the ones that came up with this design.

This revolutionary design was first seen on a snowmobile called the Blade, which came out around 2000. 

Personally, I vividly recall this. One of its unveilings took place at the Eagle River Derby at the World Championships. With my status as a reporter for a major snowmobile magazine, I got an invite and the VIP treatment.

I was amazed. It was a totally new design. It had that “rider-forward” pyramidal design — basically the A-frame design. It had long travel shocks in the front, the “rider-forward” style and a revolutionary design in the back. Initially, the sled started to sell well. I remember talking to a lady who owned a couple of them. She said they were way more comfortable to ride, with the shocks taking up much more of the impacts.

However, a few years after the Blade was unveiled, all the big four had come out with similar designs. Now, from what I gather, they had made enough differences to bypass that whole patent thing. A few years later, and all four were selling sleds with the new design.

Blade, on the other hand, saw its sales plummet. The company started out looking pretty good and were up to making about 250 sleds a year at its peak in about 2004. Then, things happened and, by about 2010, the company started falling on very hard times. From starting out as a new company that could have revolutionized the sport of snowmobiling and become a huge success, Blade was relegated to a footnote in snowmobiling history.

My industry counterpart, John Prusak, wrote in his Snowgoer Magazine back in December 2013 about the Blade. He talked about how the sled was designed, developed and then how the company fell onto hard times. In that piece, John talked to David Karpik, one of the designers and owners of the company. And, if my memory is correct, I remember talking to David myself at one of the unveilings. 

John quoted David as saying, “It makes me feel sad. Yes, it is a compliment, but it also reminds you how difficult it is to play with elephants. We learned that if you’re not financially prepared for the fight, then you’re not prepared for the fight.” 

Basically, he was saying that his design had been taken over and that he did not have funds for what would have been a court battle of many years. So, there was little he could do.

Overall, the fight between Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo seems to be over. As noted, this was a “confidential” agreement. To that end, I have asked for but not gotten additional information. Now, the two industry giants have pledged to “work together for the industry.”

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