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High Court Rules against Canopy Closures

December 3, 2004

THE Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) ruled this week thatlast year’s closure and destruction of canopytours by the Industrial Property section of theNational Registry and its former director,Liliana Alfaro, violated due process.The decision comes after almost sixyears of conflict over a controversialpatent held by Canadian inventor DarrenHreniuk, the designer of “The OriginalCanopy Tour.”Canopy tours allow participants to travelthrough the treetops between suspendedplatforms using a cable-and-pulley system.The activity has become highly popular as aday trip for tourists, an estimated 25% ofwhom take a canopy tour during their stay inCosta Rica (TT, Dec. 5, 2003).THE court ruling says Alfaro’s actions,which involved ordering the closure and,in some cases, resulted in the destructionof canopy tours she said were violatingHreniuk’s patent, were disproportionateand excessive, since the damage caused tothe property of the canopy-tour ownersexceeded the damage that had been done toHreniuk.It also orders both the Registry andAlfaro, who was removed from her postfollowing criminal complaints filed againsther by lawyers representing the affectedtours (TT, Dec. 24, 2003), to pay damagesto the owners.Hreniuk began building Costa Rica’sfirst commercial canopy tour in 1994 in themountaintop community of Monteverde,northwest of San José. He applied topatent his cable-and-pulley system in1997, and the Intellectual Property RightsOffice granted a 20-year patent in 1998.SINCE then, dozens of other canopytour operators have set up shop, causingHreniuk to complain to the NationalRegistry that his competitors were violatinghis inventor’s rights. Alfaro issued anorder in April 2003 saying all other unlicensedcanopy-tour operators had to closeand surrender their equipment (TT, May 2,2003).When tours closed down by Registryofficials resisted the order and reopened,Sala IV justices first suspended theRegistry’s order so that they could examinethe case, then voted to reinstate theorder and uphold the patent.Following that decision, Hreniuk andarmed policemen visited canopy tours inthe Central Pacific, cutting down platformsand cables (TT, Dec. 5, 2003).THE owners of Hotel Villa Lapas inPlaya Jacó, on the central Pacific coast,filed a suit after Hreniuk and companydestroyed its canopy tour, which resultedin this week’s Sala IV ruling.Hreniuk’s opponents argue an exclusivecanopy tour patent is ridiculous,since tree-to-tree ziplines date back to the19th century and were introduced as ameans for rainforest study in Costa Ricain the 1970s by U.S. biologist DonaldPerry (TT, May 30, 2003).Tourism Minister Rodrigo Castro hassaid granting a patent for canopy tours islike “giving a patent for the wheel” (TT,Dec. 5, 2003).

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