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Petzl and Chinese IP law October 21, 2011

Posted by Brandon in Technique Forum - the Training.
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Counterfeit products from China are notorious, but a recent turn towards an insular and specialized outdoor sport is putting athlete’s lives at risk.  Earlier this year, the climbing manufacturer Petzl discovered counterfeit safety equipment was being tracked to China.  These products included handle ascenders, pulleys and carabiners, i.e. products used to save climber’s lives in a deadly sport.  The counterfeits were so thorough that in some cases, fake serial numbers were engraved on the components.  However, the quality of the materials and workmanship was clear.  Normally, counterfeit products are associated with clothing and electronics, but as Petzl now realizes, these untested and cheaply made products are doing more than just diluting their brand.

Climbing equipment is predominately designed and manufactured by Petzl and Black Diamond.  These companies have built a reputation for quality in the climbing community over decades of use in the outdoors.  Petzl claims their products are built and safe tested in the United State and France with durable components and comprehensive design.  However over the last few years, Petzl noticed Chinese counterfeits of their headlamps appearing, presumably in an attempt to capitalize on the loyal customer base who value the Petzl brand.  The counterfeit climbing equipment was nearly identical in color, design, markings, packaging and batch numbering.  While Petzl is pursuing legal action against the Chinese manufacturer, presumably for patent infringement and trademark dilution, the only remedial action they have suggested for end users is to ensure you purchase Petzl products from an authorized reseller.  This is likely due to the fact that to date Petzl has been unable to specifically identify or distinguish the counterfeited products from their own.

While intellectual property protection in China is widely considered to be poor, the legal structure and organization of IP laws in China is quite strong.  Independent offices administer trademark, patent and copyrighted articles, and the government is a member of World Trade Organization and has adopted significant international agreements on IP such as TRIPS.  The Chinese Trademark Office is the most active trademark office in the world.  While registration is required and can take up to three years to complete, foreign owners of “well known” marks can challenge Chinese domestic applications.  Although patent rights are territorial, meaning that an inventor must register in China for protection, China has adopted the international standard of “first to file” for patents.  What is more, China’s copyright laws are very liberal, granting protection for tangible products without requiring registration.  This is ideal for software owners, as source code does not need to be disclosed in order to gain rights under copyright.

Despite these protections, IP enforcement is difficult and infringement is rampant.  This is likely in part a result of a booming economy and growing socioeconomic diversity.  China has the world’s second highest number of internet users, and their economy has tripled in the last ten years.  This dramatically affects enforcement and the ability to regulate technology.  Potentially more significant, the Chinese government heavily regulates imports, creating an exaggerated demand for foreign goods and technology that feeds the black market.

The consequences are severe for foreign IP owners.  The US Customs Office, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, notes that China is the single largest source of seizures at our borders.  Outside the US, chinese counterfeiters can not only sell their products locally, but easily export to foreign markets.  In fact, counterfeit products have been found at trade shows in the United States, which are further introduced to the US market through sales to customers and suppliers.  Unsurprisingly, this has led to some counterfeited products having been found within the original IP holder’s own supply chain.

To combat counterfeits, there are many precautions available to IP holders.  For example, one could make efforts to register IP, particularly where it is required (patents), record the development and investigate customers, as well as enforce rights whenever infringement is discovered.  More important, register your IP in China in Chinese, to avoid inconsistencies or graft in translation disputes, and do thorough prior art searches.  Finally, to assist policing, the US Customs office offers a program to register copyrights and trademarks with the department, which is then used to actively monitor imports coming into the country.

Chinese counterfeits are not going to disappear, so domestic IP holders need to consider where they can to protect their brand and monitor their industry.  Rock climbing is a beautiful but dangerous sport, and litigious if you run a guide or touring company.  Adding the possibility of indistinguishable fake equipment is not a risk we can take.  Hopefully Petzl will make sure this is the last time we have to worry about it.

I want to thank my friend and prolific climber G Johnson for suggesting this topic, cheers bud.

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Ideal pre/post endurance meals…you already have September 22, 2011

Posted by Brandon in Technique Forum - the Training.
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Everyday I go for a 3+ mile jog, but for the last nine months or so, I haven’t increased my endurance or energy levels.  After reading a few articles and talking with other runners, it became clear that I wasn’t properly eating before or after my runs.  Fortunately, the nutrients that I needed before and after a workout already exist in my kitchen.

Pre-Workout Options

Prior to an endurance workout, whether that’s running, swimming or biking, a main goal is to fill your liver with glycogen.  Glycogen, basically, fuels your nervous system.  You also want to make sure to get plenty of carbohydrates, which provides short term energy.  However, be careful to avoid proteins, fat and fiber, which takes up important space for more critical nutrients.

Certainly, there are numerous foods that contain glycogen and carbohydrates, but here is short list of some of the most prevalent in a home.  Interesting, Coca Cola can be ideal for boosting energy prior to a workout.  Caffeine and sugar provide short term fuel that triggers energy production, even if it is short lived.   Therefore, it’s best to have a Coke 30-60 minutes before a workout, and sip it slowly.  However, pretty much any other time of the day, you should avoid Coke.  It’s loaded with high fructose corn syrup, has zero electrolytes, and packs 140 empty calories per 12 once can.

Bagels are also a great source for pre-workout nutrients.  They’re rich in carbohydrates, bland and easily digestible, not to mention portable.  Be careful of cream cheese and butter, which are fast burning and will crash your energy levels once you get moving.  Instead, swap in peanut butter or banana slices, where you’ll get more carbs.  Banana’s on their own are also excellent pre-workout meals, as they’re loaded with carbs and low in protein and fat.

The more obvious pre-workout meals are energy bars, which are designed to be easily digestible and provide a boost of carbohydrates.   More importantly however, energy bars help stabilize glycogen levels for longer workouts.   To maximize this high-carb/low-fat option, cut up the bar into pieces to eat sporadically during the workout.  However, energy bars may at times be too heavy for some stomachs, and are a poor daily snack with high calories and sugar.

Post-Workout Options

Following a workout, it’s important not only to replenish carbohydrates and glycogen, but also repair muscles and replace missing nutrients.  This is best done by loading up on protein and fiber.  One of the best, and most surprising options, is chocolate milk.  Chocolate milk is best immediately after a workout, when muscles are most prepared to absorb nutrients.  The chocolate adds anti-oxidants and carbohydrates, nearly twice as much as regular milk, keeping in mind that low-fat milk is ideal.  In combination with the milk, it replenishes glycogen stores and provides protein to repair muscles. Along with reloading stores of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins, the anti-oxidants clear out free radicals, which has links to aging.  But make sure to have it within 20 minutes after you exercise.

Another surprising post-workout meals that provides many essential nutrients is pizza.  With lots of veggies and some lean meat, pizza can deliver all the macro nutrients you need, from carbohydrates to fat to protein.  The best option would be whole wheat with olive oil, basil, garlic, chicken and some mozzarella.  Be careful not to go too heavy on the cheese and meats, and have it within an hour of exercising to maximize the benefits.

Bananas are also ideal after a workout because of the potassium levels they provide, which is lost in sweat and helps repair muscles.  Other general tips for post-workout foods include those with electrolytes (sports drinks), salt, oxidants (berries) and protein that provide critical amino-acids (meats).  Be wary of portion sizes however, as nothing more than a palm-sized amount for any type of food is the recommended size.

Overall, it’s a good idea to focus on carbohydrates before a workout, and proteins afterwards.  As far as timing, eat no less than 30 minutes before endurance exercise, but no more than 30 minutes afterwards, depending on your tolerance.

Did I miss any other common foods that are great for pre or post workouts?  Suggest some below!

Behind the Minimalist Running Movement September 1, 2011

Posted by Brandon in Technique Forum - the Training.
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Last summer, I read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall on the recommendation of a friend.  The story details the culture and lifestyle of Mexico’s sandal-wearing Tarahumara Indians.  The ideas underlying the book, that traditional running shoe design promotes an unnatural heel strike and barefoot running strengthens and improves running ability, influenced me to experiment with minimalist shoes.  Over the last year, I’ve been running in the Nike Free and haven’t felt stronger or enjoyed running more in years.

With this new-found interest and success with minimalist running techniques, I think it’s interesting to see the ergonomic and commercial interests behind the movement.   The main tenet of minimalist running is that our bodies are already perfectly designed to run.  A natural gait places the ball of the foot on the ground directly under the body, where the impact absorption is performed by the arch of the foot.  Minimalists argue that traditional running shoes encourage a traumatizing heel strike by incorrectly supporting the arch while overcompensating with soft padding in the heel and boxing the toes.  This leads to weakened control and stability by emaciating important muscles in the foot.

Transitioning to a shoe that doesn’t modify the mechanics of our foot allows the runner to return to a mid foot strike.  This forces other parts of your back and calves to provide balance and control, which strengths your whole body.  The difference between traditional running shoes and minimalist versions is the thickness of the cushioning and geometry of the heel.  The bigger the shoe, the less contact the runner has with the ground, which can decrease responsiveness and consciousness of your surroundings.  Of course, the ability to splay the toes and shorten the gait increases strength in your legs and feet as well.  It has been emphasized however that caution should be taken when beginning barefoot running, as your body may not be prepared to make such a dramatic transition.

Critics of minimalist running warn that it can injure your arches, makes you vulnerable to debris, and otherwise ruins your feet.  Minimalists assume that running is a natural movement of our bodies, rather than one that needs to improved by support and cushioning.  While our ancestors ran barefoot, critics note that they didn’t do so on concrete or at the peril of broken glass or metal.  Apart from this however, there is empirical evidence that barefoot running makes you a faster and more efficient runner.   Research has shown that 100 grams of extra weight on the feet translates into a decrease of your running economy by about 1%.  In fact, weight on the feet makes running more difficult than weight in a person’s midsection.  This is because weight on the feet is subject to constant acceleration and deceleration during running, which has exponential energy consequences.  A simple calculation shows that two 10-ounce shoes will make you more than 5% less efficient.

Apart from the ergonomic rationale for promoting barefoot running, there is a commercial one as well.  “Minimalist” running shoes are prolific and are now produced by most athletic shoe manufacturers.  The Nike Free, first introduced in 2004, is the most widely known and retails for more than $70 a pair.  While some claim that barefoot running is a grassroots movement, these shoe companies apply and are issued patents on their designs.   Most recently, the designs underlying the vibram “five-finger” shoes have been patented and the company has taken a not-so-subtle approach to infringement.

To be expected, litigation has followed.

Similarly, less than three years after the Nike Free entered the market, Reebok sued Nike for patent infringement over the technology.  Reebok claimed that they patented a shoe which could be rolled up and dispensed from a vending machine.  While the case presumably settled when Reebok voluntarily dismissed the case less than three months later, the financial incentive in obtaining patents on minimalist technology is growing with the market.  Currently, Nike has patent applications for automatic lacing as well as a “tent” athletic shoe, which is designed to “urge or influence” the upper shroud material away from the foot, allowing for a more natural running experience.  While the barefoot movement may be premised on the idea of returning to simplicity, it does not appear to have had that impression on manufacturers.  What are your thoughts?

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