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Trademark Wars? Callaway vs. TaylorMade

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Written by: Tony Covey

The war between TaylorMade and Callaway for the top spot in golf, for lack of a more intellectually-sounding description, just got weirder.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up, here's the the blow by blow recap:

  • Callaway released two drivers (RAZR Fit Xtreme and XHot)
  • TaylorMade released two drivers (R1 and RBZ Stage 2)
  • TaylorMade filed a claim with the NDA over Callaway's use of the phrase "The Longest Driver in Golf"
  • Callaway filed a claim with the NDA over a soundbite in a TaylorMade video in which CEO Mark King said the RocketBallz fairway gave the "average" player 17 more yards.
  • It was really cold and snowy for a long time.
  • TaylorMade cut prices.
  • Callaway cut prices.
  • TaylorMade cut prices again.
  • TaylorMade painted the R1 Black.
  • The NDA Settled the 2 cases between TaylorMade and Callaway (On paper TaylorMade won both. IMO nobody came out a winner).
  • TaylorMade started selling white "Tour Issue" R1s.
  • Callaway released the FT Optiforce.
  • Callaway filed for enough Trademarks to fill a tour van (more on this in just a moment).
  • ...and finally TaylorMade's SLDR Driver popped up at the John Deere while TaylorMade played coy with the details and retail release dates.

With the exception of late fall/spring business-as-usual releases, at least as it relates to this story,  you can basically sum up what the rest of the industry was doing (or doing to each other) with two words: not much.

WHAT'S IN A NAME: SLDR vs. SLIDER

TaylorMade is notoriously good at hiding Trademarks and Patents, and even burying what you might call key technologies in seemingly innocuous and apparently unrelated patents. Callaway's tendency is to play things a bit more straight-forward.

The point of this story: When we looked, we couldn't find any TaylorMade Trademark for SLDR.

My guess is it doesn't exist.

Callaway on the other hand, they've been very busy basically Trademarking the hell out of anything and everything that could potentially describe a similarly designed sliding weight system.

Over a two day period (June 26th and June 27th) Callaway filed for the following Trademarks:

:: CG Track
:: CG Slider
:: CG Shifter
:: Piston Weighting Technology
:: Opti Track
:: Slider Weighting Technology
:: Slider
:: Flight Track
:: Slider Technology
:: Callaway Slider
:: Slider Tech
:: Slider Weighting

On July 8th (13 days after the first Callaway Trademark application), what's being called the TaylorMade SLDR Driver showed up on tour, on Facebook, on the USGA's conforming list, and just about every golf site on the planet.

Is anyone willing to go all-in with an assertion that this is just a bizarre coincidence?

What the Hell is Going On

I think it's reasonably safe to assume that while one company may not have detailed knowledge of everything in their competitor's long-term pipeline (they probably don't have CAD drawings for example). They most certainly have a solid understanding of what's in the short-term pipeline. We're not the only spies in golf.

We know that while TaylorMade remains out-front, Callaway has closed the market share gap (especially in the all-important metalwoods category). We've seen the price war, the beginnings of a release war, and it appears we could be on the leading edge of a Trademark, and potentially a patent war as well.

If it hasn't already, the proverbial shit is about to get real.

I'm fairly certain that at the higher levels of each company there is genuine animosity for the other. Simply put, both companies are keen on winning, and it would seem either would be more than content to step on the other's throat to do it.

The Chicken and the Egg

While it's easy to infer a lot from what's happening, what we can be less certain of is who's on offense and who's on defense...at least where Sliders and SLDRs are concerned.

Which came first?

Once plausible scenario is that in response to the release of FT Optiforce and the onslaught of Callaway Trademark applications, TaylorMade rushed a driver into the "Tour Prototype" phase and gave it a name that could easily be confused with what was covered by the recent Callaway Trademarks. Perhaps they had bad intel and mistakenly believed Optiforce featured Slider, or Opti Channel Technology.

It had to be released now.

It is more than a little curious that TaylorMade would choose to roll out a new driver on tour during a week when their big money staffers were all inactive. This fact alone suggest an element of immediacy.

The timing, according to TaylorMade PR Manager, Dave Cordero has as much to do with the PGA Tour season as anything else. Cordero told me that SLDR is an "incredible technology" that gives TaylorMade staffers "the best chance to win". "Innovation", said Cordero, "can't wait".

When I asked why TaylorMade was rolling the driver out to guys like Lucas Glover, Boo Weekly, and Ken Duke instead of Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, and Justin Rose, Cordero suggested that the Open Championship probably isn't the best time to unveil a new driver, but that other TaylorMade staffers are working with the new driver, getting fit, and tweaking their configurations. It's all but certain that players in the Open Championship field will have the new driver in their bags.

Even if that makes sense, there's still the almost irrefutable assertion that SLDR (and we don't even know if that's the name...because it's just a "tour prototype" and it hasn't been Trademarked as far as we can tell) simply doesn't look like a TaylorMade driver.

Obviously that's a difficult point to quantify, but even out of context (no logos for example) most of us can identify TaylorMade drivers. R1 looked like R11s, which looked like R11, which looked like R9...and so it goes. The SLDR Prototype, if you saw it sitting on the shelf by itself would you think TaylorMade?

I wouldn't.

If SLDR is coming to retail, is this what it's going to look like? Where are TaylorMade's marketing heavy hitters? Mark King? Sean Toulon, Tom Kroll?

Did TaylorMade rush SLDR or is the first sign of a new release strategy from TaylorMade?

The million dollar question for TaylorMade:

  • If SLDR isn't a direct reaction to Optiforce, why is the marketing approach so dramatically different from everything that's been successful in the past?
  • Why, if SLDR wasn't a rush-job, why wasn't a Trademark filed on the SLDR name?

SLDR could simply be temporary. SLDR could simply be sloppy.

TaylorMade's Pipeline

Given everything we've seen this year so far, it's perfectly reasonable to assume that TaylorMade would react to a new Callaway driver with a new driver of their own. For all of the major players in the industry the pipeline is at least 2 or 3 models deep, and it's not an insurmountable task to move up the release. You can call them prototypes all you want, but what we're really talking about is nearly-finished products waiting for their turn in line.

It's not like TaylorMade would have to design something from scratch to counter Optiforce.

13 days is potentially an issue. That's not much for lead time, but I can also tell you from experience with past releases, two weeks is a viable window provided you've got a design ready (or nearly ready) to go.

The sticking point in this scenario is the name. Even if you believe TaylorMade had a driver ready to go at basically any time (and I do), if SLDR is a reaction to Callaway's Slider Technology, TM would still need to do some retooling for the SLDR name to make it on to the sole plate.

It's not impossible, but it almost certainly shrinks the window.

In this entire story, it's the timeline that's the most difficult to reconcile.

Of course, if TaylorMade had advance knowledge of all of that Callaway's Slider (and related) stuff, then timing is a non-issue.

Callaway Playing Defense?

The other plausible scenario is that Callaway got wind that TaylorMade was about to release something that may or may not be called SLDR. As a response, it's possible that Callaway essentially Trademarked everything they possibly could similar to SLDR.

Did Callaway just try and Trademark TaylorMade into a corner?

The reality is, for all the head down, charge ahead, 5 year war stuff, Callaway has had to play its fair share of defense this year. When TaylorMade cut prices on their metal woods Callaway held out as long as they could, but the retail evidence suggests the cuts made a huge difference at the cash register and left Callaway with no option other to cut prices themselves.

When TaylorMade reacted immediately with a 2nd round of cuts, it no doubt ruffled some feathers at Callaway. It's tough to compete when the #1 Company in golf is selling 2013 models at 2011 closeout prices.

And of course, long before any of that happened, Callaway and TaylorMade filed suites against each other with the NDA.

In that particular case it's an absolute given that Callaway's counterclaim was a direct reaction to the initial TaylorMade action.

Is that what we're seeing here?

I've said this already, from my perspective, FT Optiforce was rushed too. Aspects of the release were sloppy. Did Callaway rush FT Optiforce so they could beat TaylorMade's SLDR punch?

I'm not certain of anything.

Callaway's Pipeline

What I do know is that Callaway has some interesting patent applications on the table, but nothing filed recently, and nothing we've heard suggests any actual intent to bring a driver with a track-based, sliding weight system to market.

"We aren't really focused on anything in this area though it's obviously something we've been working with for almost a decade" - Harry Arnett, Senior VP of Marketing for Callaway Golf

Here's the million dollar question for Callaway:

  • If the technology has been in development for nearly a decade, and there are no immediate plans to implement any of it, why the sudden need to file no less than a dozen seemingly related patents less than 2 weeks ahead of the appearance of TaylorMade's SLIDR?
  • As long as you're Trademarking everything Slider-related, why not Trademark SLDR too?

They had to know it was coming.

Harry Arnett describes the recent Callaway filings as "standard operating procedure".

Whether it's TaylorMade reacting to Callaway, Callaway reacting to TaylorMade, what's going on here is good old fashion gamesmanship...and where's there's gamesmanship, you know you've got yourself a ballgame.

Which Came First - SLIDR or Slider?

TaylorMade has a story. Callaway has a story too. Both stories leave more questions than answers. What's really going on?

Honestly, I'm not sure.

I am certain that who is reacting to whom is a very important question. I wouldn't want to be on the defensive right now.

The most plausible scenario that I've come up with involves a complicated chess match with plenty of back and forth.

You could make a case that both sides are playing their fair share of offense and defense right now.

It's new territory considering that prior to this season Callaway didn't have much of an offense, and TaylorMade didn't need to play any defense.

It's going to be very interesting to see what happens next, and every indication is that neither side is opposed to crawling in the mud and getting dirty.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

william Pucci July 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm

When is White Castle going to file suit against the use of “Slider”

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bzing July 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm

ha ha ha. +1. white castle always funny.

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Christian Furu July 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Excellent article. Thanks.

It’s incredibly interesting when you get on the inside of these companies. I think a lot of golfers underestimate how competitive they are. How hard they work on developing new products and the best campaigns. And how much some of them strongly dislikes the others products :)

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David Griffiths July 10, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Im pretty sure the SLDR is like the Mizuno MP630 Fast Track though?

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Tony Covey July 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm

There is a resemblance, and so that appears to be what golfers are saying. The reality of this particular situation is that the TaylorMade patent we found pre-dates Mizuno’s.

The larger reality is that the US Patent office, which short of a lawsuit is the final arbiter in these matters, determined there was enough difference in the stated designs to grant both patents (and more than a few others where there are apparent similarities).

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jpball July 11, 2013 at 11:13 am

Actually, the District Federal Courts are the final arbiters in these matters and those of us in the software technology field witness that group’s botched efforts every day.

There isn’t a lot of money at stake here, only a couple of billion dollars between the two companies, fighting it out for <10% annual growth, so the real issues appear to be:
1. as an independent company, with marginal profitability, Callaway must fight for every brand dollar available – especially those dollars available from buyers and retailers who place an emphasis on leading edge technology, explaining their rush to assign the value of innovation to the number of patent and trademark filings.

2. Taylor Made enjoys the benefits of being a subsidiary operation of Adidas and the product preferred by professionals. They can afford to focus on the brand value they earn from tour play and the retailers and buyers who place an emphasis on playing what the pros play.

Taylor Made can afford to side-step Callaway's patent and trademark filings while Callaway must try to wrest control of the tour bag while trying to convince buyers to align with the leader in technology.

Love this game, but I am thankful that I don't try to make a living in this industry.

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C.Evans July 10, 2013 at 6:18 pm

How about some backstory on the technology itself… Such as who came up with it? LOL. Sorry, needed to be thrown out there… Even if some of us do know what that dig is at…

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Tony Covey July 10, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Everyone likes to throw the they stole X from Y argument. As you know, in this case there are patents, including a TaylorMade patent that pre-date the Mizuno design everyone is so fond of referencing.

As you also know, there is a Callaway patent that pre-dates TaylorMade’s and several others from people/companies that most have never heard of that appear similar that pre-date the Callaway patent.

At face value are they similar? Yup. But in each case, the US Patent office found enough distinction to grant wholly separate patents.

Unfortunately most are seeing the SLDR rail system and jumping to the conclusion that TaylorMade stole it from Mizuno. We’re dealing with patents that are pushing a decade old at this point, and its safe to assume TaylorMade (and Callaway with whatever they’re messing with) have advanced the technology.

People are conveniently overlooking the fact that the Mizuno design (and the majority of patented designs we found) distribute weight across the rear perimeter. The TaylorMade SLDR is forwardly placed (as I said, unlike most of the other designs we found).

There’s also the small detail that we don’t actually know anything about SLDR other than it’s an adjustable weight rail system. What claims will TaylorMade make about the performance implications? What supporting documentation will they provide.

Will it do what they say? That’s all the matters…everything else is background noise.

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Rex July 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Tony, one company is clearly playing masters level chess while the other ….tends to get confused driving to the match…I’m betting the end game is in the not too distant future.

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RAT July 10, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Don’t forget Mizuno had a slider Driver 600 or 650.

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James July 11, 2013 at 7:23 am

It’s the MP600. I own it ,great club …

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Angga Prasetya July 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

MP600 & MP630 (still using it), truly great club…

as for the SLDR, callaway forgot fo file SLD-ier

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Joe Golfer July 12, 2013 at 12:52 am

If you read the whole article carefully, you’ll find that TaylorMade had the trademark or patent on that sliding weight technology prior to Mizuno, but Mizuno did use it first.
Hence, TM has no conflict of interest here with Mizuno.
Like you, I also thought Mizuno was first, but apparently not.

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Dave July 11, 2013 at 10:28 am

Personally I am a club junkie and even I have had enough of these silly squabbles, currently playing R-9 irons, Cleveland wedges, Razor Hawk driver and 910 fairways/hybrids and a ancient Callaway Tuttle putter. I believe Tech has reached the pinnacle. Dave

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Gary July 11, 2013 at 10:58 am

Frankly, I’m getting sick of both of these problem children. I hope that they drive each other into bankruptcy (or at least Adidas downsizing TM). Wonder if Gary Adams is rolling over in his grave.

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golfer4life July 11, 2013 at 11:21 am

Agreed. Like it much more when these companies aren’t at the front of what’s considered interesting in golf. I’m sure their are still shafts to test and small companies with great products to review. Much more interesting…

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HackHawk July 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Personally I find it very disappointing that TaylorMade seems to be moving away from the linear graphics that it had on the R1 White and RBZ driver this past year. I seem to recall it being said that they had invested substantially in this technology – and the truth for me is that these graphics make it much easier to line up the head which is why I’ve bought them. Whatever TaylorMade do on weight movement will mean nothing if their marketing claims around these graphics prove to be false by being discarded a year after launch. Personally, I think the graphics are the best step forward for people like me. Stick with it TaylorMade.

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Ian Bridge July 11, 2013 at 5:25 pm

The losers in this debacle are the purchases of other “quality” clubs. No matter how great your favourite clubs are, or how well you look after these treasured friends they are worth nothing when you leave the Shop. They have become give away items after very little use .

Across all brands quality is on a slippery slope. Paint is getting thinner on heads with scratches appearing no matter how careful the golfer. Thinner, lighter ,faster doesn’t mean
it will last or ware better!!

As for legitimate retailer he barely has time
to clear the new model before a newer model comes out.

Forget the gimmicks and go for something that you can use , something you can enjoy something that will last !

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Nick July 11, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Who cares when the prices for a decent driver drop to 99 bucks.

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Joe Golfer July 12, 2013 at 12:56 am

With all those lawyer fees and price competing, they’ll probably find other ways to keep the cost down, like using low quality shafts in those clubs. A nice paint job on a shaft doesn’t equate to a good quality shaft.

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Karl July 12, 2013 at 4:40 am

My personal bet: Callaway introduced a new driver and Taylormade reaction was a fake introduction a of their new driver just to diminish buzz around Optiforce. And how could TM pick a decent driver from a bucket so quickly? Well, I am sure these companies make several different prototypes every year. And look at SLDR driver again. Wouldn’t you assign the design somewhere back to R9 family? Maybe TaylorMade saw the Callaway’s filings, pulled out this old unused concept, placed a new badge with SLDR on it and when they saw the Optiforce, added a number “460″ (because Optiforce has it too) and a new ready-to-launch product was born. And I would say this was more to piss off Callaway than to create some buzz out there on the market.
Again, I don’t believe SLDR is a real product at retail.

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Tony Covey July 12, 2013 at 8:12 am

@Karl – TaylorMade (and others) are fond of tossing the word ‘prototype’ around. Titleist is doing the same thing right now with their 714 series irons.

At this point in the game we’re not talking about experimental products (true prototypes) in the sense of “lets see if this, or this, or this works” (that’s more in line with what Nike is actually doing as they work to find a Covert driver for Mr. Woods).

The golf companies…particularly the big ones like TaylorMade and Callaway have a new product pipeline. The kind of stuff that’s actually being prototyped is probably 2+ years out from retail.

The SLDR stuff that’s showing up now…that’s 100% ready to go (as far as being a completed design is concerned), and I’d wager it’s been ready to go for the better part of a year (if not longer).

Let’s assume that TaylorMade has been sitting on SLDR for a while now. Having tried price drops, and black paint already; if the market wasn’t stimulated to the level TaylorMade had hoped, the next move – as we’ve already seen from Callaway is to release new product.

Chances are TaylorMade was already planning to release something in the fall (August/September) time frame. The appearance of Callaway’s OptiForce simply accelerated their time table.

What shouldn’t get lost in all of this; while the release (delivery) of SLDR looks rushed, the product itself almost certainly isn’t. It’s not like TaylorMade threw a product together last minute. Nobody is going to put unproven product into tour players hands and expect they’ll play it.

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Karl July 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

I would really like to bet on this with you just for fun :)
I work in retail and so far not one word from our rep regarding new driver. Additionally the look of the driver is simply awful and as mentioned by many others, just a cheap copy of Mizuno’s MP. If I am wrong and the driver really goes out, I really incline to not stocking a single piece, just because I don’t believe one would buy it. It looks even worse than R7 Limited if you remember.

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mygolfspy July 12, 2013 at 10:35 am

Your gonna lose this bet Karl. But bet away my friend. What’s at stake?

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Karl July 12, 2013 at 11:07 am

That’s technically difficult, I am not based in US.
I’d punish myself and buy and play the driver, but that would be lose for me, no win for you :)

joemoma July 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm

golfsmith was responsible for the price cuts the second time. They just decided to start selling Taylormade drivers at the price they wanted and Taylormade had no choice to comply since it is a huge account for them.

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MeexJnr July 14, 2013 at 9:35 am

That’s why I wont be stocking Taylormade… they drop their prices for the big retailers which leaves your hard-working green grass pro at a huge panic to get a return on investment for the stock just purchased. Ping have it down to the ground with their internet policy and pricing structure!

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golfercraig July 14, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Nope. It was Dick’s, not Golfsmith. And TMaG punished them with a lessening of their program details.

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