Warchal Ambers: Thomastik claims

January 7, 2014 at 04:21 PM · Hi All,

I have been reading a discussion on MaestroNet with interest. It regards Thomastik's U.S. Patent Number 7,947,885. They claim the helix on the Amber E violates this patent.

The discussion is lively, and occasionally runs off into the weeds (what discussion does not?). But it gives enough info that you can track down the patent at the USPO web site and read it for yourself.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but the patent in question is pretty vague. Being an engineer who has dealt with the technical side of intellectual property, I find it hard to see how the patent covers the design of Amber E. It covers a string which has different vibration properties in a specific area of the string over the fingerboard, and not the area in which Amber Es have the helix (the afterlength).

I'm not trying to stir up a hornet's nest, but I know that Amber Es have gotten a lot of discussion here. This also explains why we have not been able to obtain Ambers through US distribution channels.

Replies (48)

January 7, 2014 at 09:41 PM · Hi John, I've been drawn to the discussion on MaestroNet as well and it interests me what opinions there are in this situation.

I'm not a lawyer, nor an engineer, but from what I've read in the patent claims and accompanying drawings, it does describe the Amber E.

There are 15 claims, basically their 'invention' is a music string that has 2 areas of different vibration behaviors (claim 1). Claims 2-8 are their descriptions and basis of claim 1. Claims 9-14 is their technical breakdown of the different behaviours of the different play areas shown in the drawings. And claim 15 states that in claim 14 (a single metal wire) has a plastic twist (in this case, bending a wire into a coil) in at least the first area.

If you look at the documented drawing, you can see the sections described as first and second playing area (areas 3 and 4 in drawing). Without exact dimensions, its bascially 2 sections of the string between the bridge and nut. Even though the Amber E's coil is at the tailpiece end of the string, when installed, the coil is unwound and stretches over the bridge hense the 2 playing areas with different vibration behaviour, and the plastic twist in first area.

Unfortunately, what I understand of the patent claim can describe the Amber E. And it doesn't appear to favour Mr. Warchal.

I've been a fan of Warchal strings and I quite enjoy their products they've put out. But I think its their strive for innovation that has crossed their 'solutions' with a Thomastik patent. In the process of R&D I'm sure situations like this are bound to happen. Hopefully this gets resolved and we can all purchase the Amber E to try for ourselves. In the meantime, I think its unfair for people to give Thomastik a bad rep in light of this situation. Especially in the cases where people are commenting to boycott Thomastik products.

January 7, 2014 at 10:18 PM · Hi friends, let me explain briefly. We should distinguish between spiral and twist. On Maestronet I have been just notified that the shape we use on Amber E should be called "helix", not a "spiral" in English.

To be honest I supposed that "spiral" and "helix" were more or less synonyms. If not, I am able to admit it is a helix what we use, no problem. However it is not any twist for sure.

Twist would be not working at all, since twist would be not able to increase elasticity of the plain wire core string at all.

Elasticity is what we have enriched the E string by. In the patent there are four physical features mentioned, but no any reference to elasticity in the entire patent text including claims.

January 7, 2014 at 10:21 PM · Well said, Paul.

I too hope for a good resolution for Bodhan. But I also know that alot of resources go into innovation and intellectual property (I work at an R&D lab). And if Thomastic did indeed patent a similar idea, even if expressed physically in a slightly different way (twisting the string instead of coiling it in a helical fashion, ala the Amber), then they have every right to defend their patent. In fact, if they don't defend their patent, I believe it becomes somewhat useless.

Perhaps they can come to across-licensing deal, or some other mutually beneficial agreement.

January 7, 2014 at 10:23 PM · I truly hope you are successful in arguing your case Bohdan!

January 7, 2014 at 10:36 PM · Any licence is out of question. I would not have problem askinng them for a licence if I would like to use any of their inventions (real inventions) of course. But this is not the case. Would you pay for a licence of your own, unique invention?

In patent claims every word matters. Ball is not the same as cube and spiral or helix is not the same as twist. Otherwise there would be not much sense to apply for a patent and grant any patent.

They have never made, never sold, never invented such string it is obvious. Try to google more patents about strings please. There are plenty of very detailed drawings in each of them, including the patents of this particular competitor. Have you seen any drawing which would be at least slightly similar to Amber E in their patent?

As I already mentioned on Maestronet, we can live without sale in the USA although I am sorry we can not bring the invention to all customers worldwide. What we can promise you for sure, we will never get discouraged and will never cease inventing new solutions.

January 8, 2014 at 12:55 AM · The point about exact terminology is well made. The patent refers to a "plastic twist" as covered. Yet technically, "plastic" refers to "deformable." There is no deformation involved.

So we could give our opinions, and watch with interest, but the lawyers will be the ones with the last word. Or maybe the judge and jury.

January 8, 2014 at 06:23 AM · You should be able to see that a spiral is just a simple way to effectively put a twist into the string when it is under tension, so to say it is a spiral not a twist is not true at all.

January 8, 2014 at 07:32 AM · Twist means that the wire (or any other core material) is deformed beeing rotated around its longitudinal axis, but still keep its streight shape.

Making a twist would be much easier than making a spiral (helix). Twisting the core and twists are used daily in stringmaking. Every existing stringmaking machine is able to twist the wire.

Once again, I do not mind that they have granted a twist on plain wire. It is not working at all. The same the "different diameter or even covering mass" along the string. If there is somebody who decided to patent the false string, I don't mind it.

The whole story is very strange to me. They did not decide to claim "their rights" immediately after introducing the product (although we started to promote it by image in the magazines since very beginning)and after we started to sell it into USA. They decided to claim it several months later after we succeeded with the product at exhibitions in Cremona and Shanghai...

January 8, 2014 at 07:50 AM · So you're saying your spiral(helix) doesn't impart a twist to the string when under tension, and when you take off an old Amber e string does it naturally spring back to its helix, or does it simply keep the twist that the helix put into the straight wire??

January 8, 2014 at 08:15 AM · Not only tensoned and afterwards removed string keeps its helix. The helix is significantly present even on the string tensioned to its pitch. Otherwise there would be not any sense to apply any helix. If it would be streightened by the tension, it would not work.

There us just a small difference in the shape of the helix of new string (as we sell it) and the shape of the string of used (tensioned and removed) string. This us unimportant matter. In fact, the string is just finished by customer, but it is the same in fact. It is the same as some kind of joguts are sold mixed with fruit jam and some of them are sold in double cup. There is pure jogurt in one of them and the jam on the second one. The customer finish the product by mixing them.

We considered also the possibility of selling the string in pre-tensioned shape, so it would always return to its "original" helix shape when ot would be removed form the instrument. It would be the same in fact and we described and drawed both versions in our patent application.

January 8, 2014 at 11:30 AM · Hi,

What an unfortunate situation! I can see why there may be eyebrows raised, as having recently tried them, I can say that the Amber string is a really truly interesting new string set to come on the market in quite a while. Worth trying!

There is a second part to this post, but I will send it to you as a PM.

Cheers!

January 8, 2014 at 11:30 AM · Has your patent been granted yet? I know the approval takes quite some time.

January 8, 2014 at 12:12 PM · No, it has not been granted yet. Patent procedure use to take many years until it is completed. I just submitted an appliaction in our country. It will be published in one year time (to be honest I don't understand why it takes so long time, buy it does). I am granted the pritority worldwide during the period of time, so if somebody else tried to submit the same invention in another country now, he/she is out of luck.

Now I have one year time to decide which countries I will extend the application to.

I would like to emphasize that a patent protection is not our highest priority. The patent officer at our patent office told me we should have wait with the production until the patent is granted (in order to avoid any competition now, during the period the patent is not granted yet).

However, the progress and customers benefits are more important for me. I decided to go ahead insted of waiting 4 - 5 year. Since we introduced Amber E, we received plenty letters of thanks from violinists from many counties. They are happy they get rid of whislting and they can enjoy the sound quality as never before. It is the most important matter for me.

Even if the patent would not be granted, or even if I would not enough funds to extend the patent application to all countries we sell our strings, I do not suppose we could be copied in the near future. I believe that none of the existing well established brands would be not so stupd starting the production now. They would need to admit they need to copy a newcomer form Slovakia. It would be not good reputation for them.

January 8, 2014 at 01:58 PM · Bohdan, I think you made several grave strategic mistakes. Always have your ass covered legally.

You should have listened to your patent attorney and after finishing your R&D, put all the test strings and documents into the safe and wait for a year till the patent in Slovakia would be granted. Start production after that. I understand, it takes a lot patience and you wanted to see your product out because you knew it would be a coup but in the end you harmed yourself.

As I understand it, now you produce the string with the patent application submitted and being processed and the letters prohibiting distribution in certain territories because of patent dispute.

Precarious situation, how to get out of it? Prepare the funds, lots of it for your lawyers and patent attorneys, maybe more than for the whole development of the string. Extend your application to the countries where your biggest distributors are, I would not leave out China as the biggest violin producer. That is why your competitor probably hit you now. And listen to your legal team and do exactly what they say.

Edit: and one more thing. Do not discuss your legal matters on the internet. Provide a general public statement for your customers that there is a legal dispute and do not provide any technical details beyond that. Loose tongues lose legal cases.

January 8, 2014 at 02:09 PM · During my career as a patents professional my experience was that if someone alleges that a product or process is infringing their patent the first thing to do is to investigate the validity of that patent.

Firstly, do the elementary check that it is still in force - patents have lapsed because of a failure to pay renewal fees.

Secondly, carry out an in-depth investigation of the prior art that goes beyond the official Patent Office search. Due to the limitations of Patent Office searches and examination, that in-depth investigation can sometimes provide very useful ammunition to knock out, or seriously weaken, a patent.

January 8, 2014 at 03:09 PM · Mr Jennings is spot-on.

In 1999 I had a competitor allege that one of my cases used a patented design of his, and so after making a public show of it he sent me a cease-and-desist letter telling me to stop making that case model of mine.

I had his patent investigated and subsequently invalidated, on the basis of it being non-patentable in the first place, and incorrectly described in the patent text as well.

Today, 15 years later, I still make that model.

January 8, 2014 at 04:12 PM · Thanks. I know even about more cases (from musical accesory area) when the attacked manufacturer managed the challenge and cancel the patent of the competitor that claimed the supposed patent rights. As it concerns third parties I will not reveal more details.

Challenging ther patent is one of the quite many ways how we can proceed now. However we are not in any press fortunately. The demand in the rest of the world increases a lot, maybe due to the publicity and maybe also because US customers start to find ways how to get the strings form abroad.

In any case, even before the case arose we have been not able to satisfy the demand. This is why production capacity increase is our highest priority. We are designing new machines, that allows us not only to increase the capacity, but provide us many new options as for the quality and development. We are also building new premises.

It costs a lot of money. This is why are even less disposed to pay for lawyers and trials right now. We have suspended the sale into USA and Austria despite we have been informed by experts we do not violate the patent.

It would be tempting idea to prove we are right. In spite of it, we simply decided not to get sucked into our competitor game so far.

January 8, 2014 at 04:36 PM · Hi Pavel,

thanks for your advice. Fortunately our situation is much better than it may seem to be. It is not any disaster at all :-)

As I already wrote on Maestronet I am not sure we are autorized to spend money we get from our customers to paying lawyers. Musicians pay us for research and development, keeping and improving quality as well as for customer service. Nothing more.

I am ready to pay lawyers in necessary extend (as we already do), and I always listen them with attention. However, the final decision is up to me. As you certaily know, every lawyer suggest making much more work than is really necessary. The same applies for doctors and car-mechanics in most cases unfortunately.

I am disscussing details since I was asked to explain (when the dissucions arose) by several personal messages and e-mails.

The world has changed recently a lot. Customers use to be much better and quicker informed than before. People ask for detailed information. In my opinion there is no reason to hide the basic techical details of the case.

January 8, 2014 at 05:34 PM · Well, maybe they're unhappy because the Amber E is truly excellent. :)

It's a great product Bohdan, totally unlike anything else out there, and I wish you the best in prevailing in this process so that we can get access to them again in the US.

I've got a set on my violin now, and honestly it's one of the best I've ever had. I'm happy I decided to go out on a limb and try it out, and still have one more set in my case...

January 8, 2014 at 07:01 PM · I just want to point out that the helix in the Amber E is not in the afterlength, but between the bridge, and fingerboard where the bow would touch. In the initial post you mention that it is in the "afterlength."

January 8, 2014 at 08:31 PM · Gotcha. Looked to me like it was afterlength, but I stand corrected.

The reason I don't know from personal experience is that I was waiting for the Amber E to be available through US distribution channels, before I tried it. Little did I know...

January 8, 2014 at 09:57 PM · Is the Thomastic patent responsible for the famous Dominant E string???

January 9, 2014 at 05:02 AM · Seraphim,

good one!

Did you mean infamous Dominant e-string?

Although we all know what this is all about (envy and arrogance of a top dog), the court of law is a different story.

Although not a customer of yours, I wish you Bohdan the best of luck.

January 9, 2014 at 01:24 PM · Fully supporting Bohdan here - of course. Shame on Thomastik... hope it works out well for Mr Warchal. Luckily I'm in the UK so can still get the strings :)

January 9, 2014 at 03:26 PM ·

January 9, 2014 at 04:16 PM · excellent advice from Pavel and Jenny! Unfortunately, though, the better the advice, the more pleasure some personality types feel when they act contrary to it.

Get a good lawyer, and get the string marketed in USA if it's so good... Sell a lot of them, and make a ton of money off the legal fees you pay, then use part of profits for R&D for an even better one! Rinse and repeat.

January 9, 2014 at 09:07 PM · This a fascinating debate, but I don't think it is added to by having people give advice to Bohdan as if he has no clue. The man has some reputation and credibility, the last couple of posters have ?

Thomastik have a right to post their claim, their day in court will be heard, and Bohdan is approaching this the way he feels is best, by continuing to trade around the US while the legal murk - does its own thing in its own time.

Weaker cases have been won (the deplorable copyright cases eg Men at Work over the Land Down Under riff / Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree; George Harrison & She's So Fine /My Sweet Lord) so I hope this has a better outcome.

January 9, 2014 at 09:40 PM ·

January 9, 2014 at 10:51 PM · Sharelle, I hope that my post to Bohdan did not sound as patronizing, it definitely was not intended in that way. I consider Bohdan as a compatriot, our ages are not too apart and to start a successful string company with worldwide reputation (including a few novelties such as Russian A and Amber E) in Slovakia from scratch is no mean feat.

I was in a similar situation years ago when I had to undergo a

similar decision, in the end I paid the lawyer abroad the fee and won the case. A lot of money was wasted but the case was won.

I feel Bohdan is very customer and user friendly, he replies to every email and tries to answer every customer question on v.com or MN. But you never know who is behind that online identity and as Eugenia correctly pointed out he may have provided ammunition for the competition. Any lawyer would give the same advice.

Instead of discussing these things I would rather recommend a CD from Naxos (8.550109) (no idea if it is still available, had it for a long time) Georg Friedrich Handel Water Music Suites 1-3 with Capella Istropolitana. You might like it.

January 10, 2014 at 12:45 AM · Sharelle, I don't believe it's a "debate"- I think it's people who have expertise in business and legal affairs freely offering benefit of their experience. Obviously, care and high positive regard is included, or that gift wouldn't be offered to Mr Warchal at all. Many people have different talents, some to invent & manufacture new strings, others to maneuver successfully in highly legalistic & regulated modern business environment.

January 10, 2014 at 04:54 AM · From my experience as an expert witness I have to agree with those who have cautioned against free public discussion of a case in which one is involved. It's just not prudent.

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January 27, 2014 at 09:08 AM · At NAMM this weekend, I spoke with the people from Savarez, the maker of Corelli strings. Cyril Maillot says that 20 years ago, they experimented with strings that had different characteristics along their length, and were asymmetrical, so the idea that Thomastik-Infeld could patent something that was pre-existing is ludicrous. Could be expensive to fight, though.

January 27, 2014 at 01:24 PM · It only counts as pre-existing if Corelli had published papers on it, or otherwise disseminated the info to the public at large.

Otherwise it is the the first to file a patent that gets intellectual property rights.

January 27, 2014 at 02:46 PM · Not if a recently broadcast serialized rubbish novel, McEwan's "Solar" is to be believed. According to that, properly signed up and dated documentation of Corelli's work would invalidate the later patent. However, Seraphim, perhaps you are an expert in U.S. patent law and know better than McEwan?

January 27, 2014 at 04:45 PM · I don't know about Mr Mcewan's itelletual property acumen. But I have co-authored two issued patents and recently US patent law has indeed changed from the formerly "first to invent" (as per McEwan), to now giving preference to "first to file".

Sitting on ideas no longer counts for a hill of beans. You must actually file for a patent or be passed by.

January 27, 2014 at 10:47 PM ·

January 27, 2014 at 10:58 PM · You've indeed proved your point, Seraphim. That's helpful to everybody.

January 29, 2014 at 11:51 PM · Instead of suing their competitors, perhaps T-I should actually market an improved E string with the Dominants. The one they're selling now is certainly nothing special.

February 11, 2014 at 04:28 AM · Here is the link to the so-called patent...

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=7,947,885&OS=7,947,885&RS=7,947,885

Nowhere does this patent describe a helix. It mentions a "plastic twist", but this is not specifically defined. In fact, this patent describes every string made by every manufacturer: on account it describes a core with a winding (the same as ALL synthetic strings).

This patent should never have been granted, for it describes all strings made before the application was filed. This means all Pirastro strings violate the patent, for they have "windings around the core".

What Thomastik is trying to do is bully Warchal and we consumers into avoiding a new and valid invention. These are the same tactics used by Monasanto.

For the same reasons I boycott Monsanto, I am now boycotting Thomastik.

June 6, 2014 at 02:44 PM · Hi friends,

just to let you know that we have just reopened the sale of Amber E strings into the USA and Austria. Meanwhile we have diversified the product range, so now also the FORTE version as well as the ball version for Integrated Fine Tuners Tailpicece is available.

Thank you for your support and patience.

June 6, 2014 at 03:57 PM · Bravo!

Bodhan, any chance you will create an A string, like your Russian A, except make it for viola!

June 6, 2014 at 05:51 PM · I have Ambers on now, and they are really nice. They took some getting used to, but the longer I played on them, the better I liked them. I'm glad we can get them here in the USA.

June 6, 2014 at 06:17 PM · So who carries Ambers in the US?

June 6, 2014 at 11:36 PM · I don't know. I got mine before all the controversy and they were an introductory offer at half price.

June 7, 2014 at 04:28 AM · If it is allowed to be sold in the US, then Shar will have it, but do any of you know when it will start to be sold?

June 7, 2014 at 03:06 PM · Bodhan: Congratulations! That is excellent news!

Cheers!

June 9, 2014 at 04:02 PM · I ordered the Amber set without the E last month direct from the Warchalshop and it arrived in less than a week (to San Francisco). The other options for the E string were there but they were not shipping to the US at that time. I have since had the chance to order both the regular and forte version of the E from an online shop in Canada and Belgium respectively. I put the E's on a 2011 Scott Cao Heifitz Guarneri (made by him) with a Russian A and Passione D and G. The regular E sounded and felt more like a light string but blended really well. In comparison to the Karneol E or Gold E (I prefer the slightly sweeter and smoother sound of the Karneol E on this violin), the regular Amber E sounded softer to my ear and lost volume in very high positions. This could be perception though since it sounds different. I have since tried the Amber Forte E and it is perfect. It has all the brilliance without edginess, and actually is much clearer in the highest positions and is more comfortable to play there as well. Absolutely no squeaks and the open E sounds much better. The transition to the Russian A is seamless and it makes the whole violin sound better. Now to try it in chamber and orchestral settings to see how it carries and blends. I think the Amber forte for me is the best E string choice going forward. Possibly the medium would work with all gut strings. I will also replace the med Gold E on my old german with another Amber Forte and see if it works as well.

I tried the Amber D and G but ended up putting back on the Passione on the Cao, and PI's on the old German (also with the fantastic Russian A). On the Cao, the Amber D/G sounded gritty and not as beautiful and complex as the Passione so I ended up putting those back on after a week. Same for the German which likes the PI's better.

June 9, 2014 at 06:52 PM · Update:

I found the Amber E at gostrings (collective groan). Shar and Quinn violins do not have Amber E (yet).

OK, I ordered one from gostrings to check them out, to see if they really have improved, or if they have the same byzantine order system. I can report that their order system is different, but time will tell if customer service has improved. So far, I'm not impressed with the new gostrings. I can't even change my account profile without placing an order.

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