Smart Parts Will Destroy Paintball

by Doc Nickel

Note: Smart Parts went out of business around 2010 and has since re-setup shop as GOG Paintball. During the closure many of their patents were split up throughout the industry making much of Doc's post a moot point now. I feel his insights are still historically signicicant to paintball's history so I'm going to keep this up.

In the early eighties, Bob Gurnsey passed up a chance to patent all paintball- the very idea of the game- since it would stifle the nascent sport and keep it from growing.

In the late eighties, Tippmann declines to patent the CO2 tank "pin valve", since doing so would prevent it's widespread use and adoption, and Tippmann knew it was far safer and more useful than any of the other cobbled options players were using.

A year or two later, Glenn Palmer passes up the chance to patent pneumatic automation- the method by which an Autococker, Typhoon and Blazer work. He wasn't interested in keeping a stranglehold on the idea, and wanted to see it used and improved.

In the very early nineties, FASTech declines to fight PMI over the stacked-valve blowback semiauto patent. This opens the door to low-cost semiautos, which by themselves are singularly responsible for a major percentage of paintball's growth through the ninties.

About that same time, Tom Kaye refuses to patent the regulated nitrogen system, since he felt it was a superior power source over CO2. Without the HPA systems, our current high-speed, high-ROF markers and ultra-stable regulators simply wouldn't have worked.

And now, now we have Smart Parts. Smart Parts wants to patent the very idea of using electricity in any manner to fire a paintball.

What does this mean? Cash. Raw greed. Smart Parts is looking to literally corner the market. If the patent goes through as declared, every manufacturer that makes an electric or electronic paintball gun will have to pay SP royalties on each marker produced. Or pay a licensing fee, or whatever SP decides they want to do.

A thread over on Automags.Org hints that SP might ask a cool million bucks for the licensing fee, and $75 per unit on top of that.

Know what that means? That means the fees come from YOU, the player. Increased costs of manufacturing are always passed on to the consumer. If it costs more to make it, you'll pay more for it in the store.

Let's take an example: Let's say ICD estimates they'll sell 20,000 Bushmasters in the next couple of years. We know a Bushy costs about $400 now, give or take. That million-dollar fee adds $50 per unit right off the top, and another $75 means that, with ZERO other changes, the cost of a Bushmaster just went up $125.

How about $1,300 Angel Speeds? Or $1,800 IR3s. $500 E-Spyders. $1,900 Intimidators. $600 Black Draguns.

That $1,600 Lasoya Timmy? They're not gonna sell 20,000 of 'em. They might sell 400. That's $2,500 in licensing fees before you even buy the marker. Think that a $4,175 marker will be good for the sport?

But, of course, SP will have $450 Impulses and $750 Shockers.

This, boys and girls, is what's known as a Monopoly. Ask Bill Gates and the US Justice Department- and Apple Computers- if a Monopoly is a good thing.

Our carefree honeymoon is over. The days of altruistic industry greats willing to make a small sacrifice for the good of the sport, are over. Randy Kamiya used to write about small inter-industry squabbles, and his analogy was, rather than try and stab somebody in the back for a bigger share of the pie, let's work to make a bigger pie.

This is no longer good enough for Smart Parts. They want a bigger pie, and more of it. Electros are the fastest-growing segment of the sport right now, mainly thanks to the recent advent of the low-cost "sear tripper" electro-blowbacks. For the first time, a player can buy a pretty decent electro for a pretty decent price, and actually have a good marker.

Is SP looking at that, seeing the dropoff in Shocker sales- their self-described "flagship" marker- and sales of their Impulse- which is commonly considered a midrange electro which needs several upgrades, such and an LPR, to be tournament ready- being undercut by the Bushmaster, the Defiant, even the Intimidator, as well as the fleets of entry-level sear-trippers?

Are they looking at that, and deciding they want a bigger slice of the pie? What other explanation can there be?

Will Smart Parts be magnanimous and only charge a very small token royalty? History says otherwise- remember, after all, that SP is the company that sold two versions of the Shocker, one the standard semiauto, the other a full-auto. All the circuit boards were exactly the same, the full-auto ones just had a small microswitch soldered to preexisting contacts. For that switch, the player paid a hundred dollars or more extra.

This is the same company that drilled a hole in a plastic Armson elbow ($3 retail) stuck a length of pneumatics hose in it and called it an "Air Assist", which retailed at $35.

This is the company that deliberately used a unique barrel thread on the Shocker in order to sell more barrels. When they brought the Impulse out, it had yet another barrel thread, incompatible with anything else.

In order to sell more barrels.

I, for one, would not count on Smart Parts' charity in this matter.

I will admit I'm a fan of some of SP's products. I've always been a fan of the Max Flow HPA system. It's maintenence-intensive, but it's a very good reg. The so-called "Smart Valve" is finally a reliable, rebuildable shutoff valve for CO2 tanks, which have always been troublesome.

I've also enjoyed owning and working on Shockers and Impulses, but I'll also be the first to admit there's some serious shortcomings with both designs.

But if this goes through, I will carefully hoard my current stable of electros, and I will run full tilt back to 'Cockers. I will not in any way, shape or form, if this suit passes, buy another SP product. No Freaks, no Maxes, no All-Americans. No Shockers, no Impulses, no RASE clothes. No grips, no valves, no drops, no nothing.

And I will recommend to all who will listen to do the same. The raw, naked greed boiling off SP is a spreading stain on the sport, and I'm afraid we're all going to get a little dirty.