Tinkering, Vision, Business and Patents: What the Tangled History of Windsurfing Can Tell Us About Innovation
Rick is an experienced Nashville intellectual-property litigator and an erstwhile part-time professor at Vanderbilt University Law School whose writing and teaching focuses on copyright issues but whose law practice involves a wide variety of IP-related disputes.
A Meditation on Innovation on the Occasion of the Death of S. Newman Darby, Tinkerer, Hobbyist & Inventor
If you enjoy windsurfing, you might raise one to S. Newman Darby, who essentially invented it and who passed away last month. For a long time, not very many people knew this.
He grew up around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Though he clearly had a mechanical gift, he was content to run the sign-painting business his father had started, and to tinker on the side. He particularly enjoyed boating on the Susquehanna and on nearby lakes. But he found sailing fussy, and steering by rudder unsatisfying. How much better it would be to steer by guiding the sails themselves and leaning into the wind. It was 1964.
He started by attaching a sail directly to a board. That worked, but it was clumsy and limited. You couldn’t turn very well, and you couldn’t go into the wind. He tried again, this time attaching the sale to the board with a short length of nylon rope, effectively creating a universal joint. This worked a treat, and in a short time, he taught himself how to “sailboard.” You stood on a rectangular board, about the size of an…