When Peter Chilvers, a 12-year-old English boy attached a sail to a surfboard in 1958, he invented a new water sport that is now popular worldwide–and set himself up for an ordeal of legal battles decades later.
An American inventor who developed a similar device independently began marketing it under the name Windsurfing International. But when another manufacturer challenged the validity of Windsurfing International’s patent in the 1980s, it offered evidence that Chilvers had originally invented the windsurfer ten years before Windsurfing International filed its patent.
Lawyers for Windsurfing International accused Chilvers of lying in his claim that he had invented the windsurfer as a schoolboy. But being friendly with the old lady next door paid off for Chilvers: neighbors who witnessed him windsurfing as a schoolboy verified his claim.
Since Chilvers’s board used the same universal joint that was a key part of Windsurfing International’s patent, British courts upheld the validity of Chilver’s patent, finding that the developments made by Windsurfing International were merely “obvious extensions” of Chilvers’s design. The case acknowledged Chilvers as the original inventor of the design and set an important legal precedent for the “non-obviousness” standard of new patents, the BBC reported in 2009.