Executives of a New Zealand company carving out a global niche in extreme sports, say they were investigating alleged piracy of their trademark before a counterfeit Zorb broke the back of an American newspaper reporter.
Public safety officials in west-central Maine said they are investigating the injury to Sun Journal reporter Rebekah Metzler when she tumbled in an inflatable sphere – claimed to be a Zorb – down a 213m hill during a media preview.
Metzler fractured her back and injured a kidney when the sphere struck a post at Lost Valley Ski Resort.
State officials said the promoter of the device, Zorb New England, was operating without a permit, the Sun Journal reported.
Zorb Ltd chief executive, Craig Horrocks, of Remuera, Auckland, told the Boston Globe that his company has had issues with “a rogue and fake operators.”
He said the only official Zorb site in the USA was in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, near Dolly Parton’s theme park.
Zorb New England co-manager Jeremy Coito acknowledged that his business base in Danvile New Hampshire was not associated with Zorb Ltd, but claimed that “Zorbing is a generic trademark, a sport” and he could rightfully use its name.
But Sosia Zerboni, the group capital projects manager from Zorb Ltd’s Auckland headquarters, said the New Zealand company found out last week about Zorb New England and had already asked its lawyers to go after the group, before Metzler was hurt.
Zorbs have been gaining recognition outside New Zealand in the past few years, fuelled by feature spots on TV shows such as Amazing Race and The Today Show.
The Zorb ball was invented by computer programmer Dwane van der Sluis and musician Andrew Akers as a durable double-skinned sphere in which passengers can either be suspended with nine straps to keep the rider in place, or a “‘hydro” sphere without a harness can have water sloshing around the riders.
Mr Horrocks – who joined the pair as a part owner and now owns over 800,000 of the company’s 2.8 million shares – said the inventors had pumped all their savings into a New Zealand patent.
Rather than taking out expensive patents in other countries at an estimated cost of $1 million, he put the company on the trademark path in about 16 countries.
Instead of preventing copies, Zorb concentrates on stopping others using the word “Zorb” or to describe the activity as “Zorbing”.
Mr Horrocks said in a statement to the Sun Journal: “Unfortunately, as you are now aware, the (Lost Valley) operators had bought a fake device. ‘Zorb New England’ is an operation that has stolen our name.”
Just so you know what we’re talking about I’ve included a short video on what should happen when and if you go zorbing – certainly looks fun to me but, like many of the sports we report on, if it is not practiced with due care and attention there can be problems. Let us hope that Rebekah makes a full recovery.