On April 4th, the Viper 640 Class Association and Brian Bennett mutually agreed not to pursue a settlement agreement, now or in the future.
Brian has stated that he will support the class and its members and that he wishes the Class Association the very best.
The Viper Class Association wishes Brian all the best with the VX One Design.
This ends a long process which has consumed many hundreds of hours of volunteer time and it is the best resolution for both sides.
The brief background to this is as follows:
- Brian Bennett was the original designer and builder of the Viper beginning in 1996 and his company went bankrupt in 1999.
- The original Viper Class Association raised funds to purchase the tooling from the bankruptcy receiver and recommence production in the US. However the molds were sold through an intermediary to Race One in the UK. No further Vipers were built and the class died.
- A new Viper Class Association was formed in 2003. The new Class Association persuaded Rondar Raceboats to become builder and production recommenced in 2007, in the original molds.
- Any design copyright to the Viper had expired prior to Rondar recommencing production of the Viper.
- Rondar employed Brian Bennett between July 2008 and September 2009 as their North American representative. Their agreement included a salary for Brian, all expenses and a fee per boat.
- Brian proposed to Rondar that his new company, Sportboat Planet become the sole importer of Rondar Vipers into North America. Rondar declined.
- In late 2009 Brian made a series of proposals to the Class Association for Sportboat Planet to supply a reconfigured boat with a number of different builder proposals variously in North America, Europe and New Zealand. A special committee consisting of all the elected Class Association executive committee, all the technical committee, and fleet captains/spark plugs was formed to consider these proposals. After a careful and detailed review the special committee unanimously declined Brian’s proposals.
- In light of Brian’s return to New Zealand , the class association told Brian that they would entertain his request to become a builder/distributor for Australia/New Zealand provided builder and boats abided by class rules. The class did not get a response from Brian. There was talk that his new company, Southern Performance Yachts, would build Vipers for the Australian market but no boats were built.
- In an attempt to preserve good relations, a sub-committee led by Kay Van Valkenburgh continued to talk with Brian. In June 2010, the Class Association and Brian successfully reached a provisional agreement where the Class Association would pay Brian a fee of up to $50,000 on a per boat basis, in return for provisions that he abide by the class rules and constitution, relinquish copyright claims (both sides had acknowledged that these had expired), and not support non class approved builders. When the agreement was produced in final form in November 2010, Brian chose not to sign the agreement.
- In December 2010 Brian announced that he intended to start building a Viper with some significant changes (eg different mast, carbon spreaders, different laminates) and published a letter that among other things accused the class association of acting unconstitutionally, and accused Rondar of building boats from decrepit molds. Neither of these accusations had merit. The Class Association again reached out to Brian looking for a reasonable way forward so that Brian could be celebrated as the designer of the Viper and be a part of the resurgence of the class, but at the same time respect the vision of the Class Association, which includes the grass roots philosophy of a class that is controlled by its members and boat owners.
- Dan Tucker, incoming Viper Class President, took over the task of trying to reach an amicable agreement with Brian.
- In February 2011 Brian announced plans to build and market a new 19’ sport boat called the VX One Design, from a new company called Bennett Yachting Technologies Inc. Dan and his exec team proposed that Brian review the previous June agreement, remove any non-compete terms so that Brian could build the VX One Design, propose new financial terms and make line item amendments to the original agreement but that the agreement would be subject to a vote of class members, thumbs up or down. Dan worked to counsel Brian not to over reach and help him produce a proposal that would be acceptable by members. Brian agreed to this plan of action.
- After two months of amicable discussions and drafts, and a proposed settlement including a larger sum to be paid on a per boat basis, Brian has stated that an “agreement is not worth pursuing”. Brian took this decision after consulting his attorney. The Class executive committee has concluded that it does not appear possible to reach a formal agreement. Both sides have concluded with a simple, informal understanding that Brian will support the Viper class. This is the end of the matter as far as the Class is concerned.
We genuinely wish Brian the best of luck with his new venture.
It’s time to put this discussion behind us and get on with a great season of upcoming regattas in an impressive number of locations. Let’s go sailing!!
What will change? Not much, really. No per boat fee has been paid since Brian left Rondar, no per boat fee will be paid.
Is there a valid copyright on the design of the Viper? No. Copyright on hull design is valid for 10 years from when the first boat is built, which for the Viper was 1996. Any USA designer’s copyright protection has expired; if it ever existed (it was never registered). Brian acknowledges this. To the best of our knowledge there is no copyright anywhere in the world, but the Class maintains one-design standards through the builder approval process in the Class constitution.
I thought the class owned the design rights? No, there are no design rights to own.
How about the molds? Rondar currently owns the molds used in production. Now that the negotiations with Brian have concluded, the class officers have moved on to negotiating a formal builder’s agreement with Rondar. That may or may not include transfer of ownership of the molds to the class, but will certainly provide the means for the class to move the molds to another builder if deemed necessary.
So can anyone build a Viper? Yes and no. Someone could build a boat that looks just like a Viper 640. However, the Class Rules only allow a boat to race in a Viper one-design regatta if it is built by a class approved builder. Rondar Raceboats is currently the Class approved builder.
Does Brian remain a Class Governor? Yes. Brian has not offered, and we have not asked for his resignation.
Will Brian build class approved Vipers in the USA? No, he has not made any application to be a class approved builder, and does not intend to at this time.
Hasn’t Brian designed a new, sort of similar competing sportboat? Brian has unveiled a new boat, called the VX One-Design. See his website and draw your own conclusion as to whether it is a competing or complementary design to the Viper.