Skaters fawn over Rodney Mullen for figuring out how to pop skateboards into the air and flip them around without the aid of a ramp or handlebars or Velcro, but Mullen would be nowhere without Larry Stevenson. Mutt’s heaviest contribution to skateboarding, the flatground Ollie, could not be executed without the leverage gained from a kicktail, the “inclined lever that is sloped upwardly and rearwardly from the skateboard” that Stevenson patented.
Stevenson, the founder of Makaha skateboards, first filed for his skateboard design patent (#3,565,454) on June 12, 1969. It was approved on February 23, 1971.
As is often the case, patent enforcement eventually became necessary when skateboard manufacturers began making their own decks with kicktails and not paying Stevenson any royalties. In the late 70’s, he filed patent infringement complaints in an attempt to reap some benefit from the growing adoption of kicktails.
After more than five years of suits, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually found the kicktail to be “too ‘simple’ to merit patent protection,” and Stevenson didn’t get to ride a wave of cash that would eventually have doubled when skateboards were redesigned to have a kicked nose and tail.
But, as my childhood skating buddy Josh pointed out, the inventor of the popsicle stick probably isn’t profiting from modern skateboard design either.
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