San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Doubt Surrounds Canopy Tour Ruling

AN apparent leak to the press, along with the courtsystem’s vacation schedule, have resulted in suspense forthe interested parties in a seven-year battle over therights to operate canopy tours, a popular tourist activityin which participants whiz through rain-forest treetopson cables.The daily La Nación reported last week that it hadobtained a copy of an Administrative Contention Courtdecision annulling Canadian inventor Darren Hreniuk’scontroversial 20-year patent of canopy tours. However,the court itself has made no official announcement, andsince its vacation period is not scheduled to end until Jan.17, no one was available to confirm or deny the ruling.EVEN the National Registry, the government office responsible for granting and administeringpatents, appears to be in the dark.“We haven’t received any notification,”registry spokeswoman LauraQuesada told The Tico Times this week.“We’re just waiting.”The registry’s Intellectual PropertyRights Office granted Hreniuk the patenton canopy tours in 1998. Since then,Hreniuk, who maintains he invented thecable-and-pulley system as a commercialventure in Costa Rica, and the operators ofother canopy tours, who argue Hreniuk isstaking an absurd claim to an age-olddevice, have been locked in a struggle thathas reached the country’s Supreme Courttwice.ACCORDING to La Nación, thenewspaper obtained a copy of a ruling –dated Dec. 17, 2004, the day the courtsclosed for vacation – that annuls Hreniuk’spatent of the “system of elevated foresttransport with propulsion by gravity usinga harness and pulley in a simple horizontalline,” the canopy tour’s technical description.Quesada said that for all cases since2002, the registry handles appeals onpatents through its Registry Tribunal,founded at the end of that year. However,the Administrative Contention Court “hasthe last word” on all cases begun earlier,which includes the appeal on the canopytour patent.Aney Zeledón, a legal representativefor The Original Canopy Tour, Hreniuk’scompany, said she, like Quesada, is waitingfor official news.“I haven’t received any information…but if it were true that they annulledthe patent, we would immediately takeaction with the Administrative ContentionCourt,” she said.A statement to the press by two otherlegal advisors to the company, RafaelGonzález and Enrique Rojas, confirmedthat no one at the company had been notifiedof the ruling. Annulment of the patentwould violate multiple laws, includingArticle 47 of the Constitution, which protectsthe intellectual creations of inventors,the statement said.HRENIUK began building CostaRica’s first commercial canopy tour in1994 in the mountaintop community ofMonteverde, several hours’ drive northwestof San José. He applied to patent thesystem in 1997.After the patent was granted in 1998,other existing canopy tours continued tooperate and many others set up shop, causingHreniuk to complain to the NationalRegistry that his competitors were violatinghis inventor’s rights. His companynow operates three of the country’s morethan 80 canopy tours.In April 2003, the registry’s then-director,Liliana Alfaro – later fired aftercanopy-tour operators filed criminal complaintsagainst her – ordered all other unlicensedoperators to close and surrendertheir equipment (TT, May 2, 2003).WHEN operators resisted the orderand reopened, justices of theConstitutional Chamber of the SupremeCourt (Sala IV) first suspended the registry’sorder so that they could examinethe case, then voted to reinstate the orderand uphold the patent.Following that decision, Hreniuk andarmed police officers visited canopytours in the central Pacific region, cuttingdown platforms and cables (TT, Dec. 5,2003).The owners of Hotel Villa Lapas inPlaya Jacó, on the central Pacific coast,filed a lawsuit after Hreniuk and companydestroyed its canopy tour, prompting a rulingagainst Alfaro by the Sala IV. The ruling,announced Nov. 29, stated the closureand destruction of other canopy tours violateddue process, and ordered Alfaro topay damages (TT, Dec. 3, 2004).HRENIUK and his representatives saythe idea of the canopy tour as a commercialventure is his alone and has brought a significantinflux of revenue to Costa Rica.The activity generates $180 million annually,according to last week’s statement byOriginal Canopy Tour representatives. Anestimated 25% of tourists take a canopytour during their stay in Costa Rica (TT,Dec. 5, 2003).However, Hreniuk’s opponents argue acanopy tour patent is ridiculous, since treetop-tree ziplines date back to the 19th centuryand were introduced as a means for rainforeststudy in Costa Rica in the 1970s byU.S. biologist Donald Perry (TT, May 30,2003). Tourism Minister Rodrigo Castrohas said granting a patent for canopy toursis like “giving a patent for the wheel” (TT,Dec. 5, 2003).“Article Two of the Patent Law says aninvention can be patented if it is new andoriginal,” José Carlos Quesada, the lawyerrepresenting Las Góndolas, a hotel with acanopy tour in Playa Hermosa on theCentral Pacific coast, told The Tico Timesthis week.“However, the system used by Mr.Hreniuk had been seen in the movies sincethe beginning of the 1990s, with the SeanConnery film ‘The Medicine Man,’” headded.According to Quesada, the credits ofthe 1992 film, which shows Connery zippingthrough the Amazon rain forest, mentionbiologist Perry as the inspiration forthe canopy action sequence.Quesada also said Article 21 of thePatent Law allows for any person with alegitimate interest to contest a patent, butthat he does not know of any other patentbeing annulled in the past.

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