The following topic will always hold the potential to be contentious, and pick at scars, that are arguably only just beginning to heal - however, as a slice of Handpan history, the date, June 27th, 2012, looking back in retrospect, can arguably be conisdered as one of the most significant dates in the history of the Handpan. And a crossroads at which, the currently blossoming eco-system that surrounds this new instrument, could have taken a very different turn.
Having recently celebrated adding one hundred names to our Handpan makers list, a number that has since risen further - you have to wonder whether things would be quite so fruitful currently - if, on June 27th, 2012 - the day that PANArt (the Hang-makers) took newer rival maker, BEllArt, to court - over accusations of “creating unfair competition”, things had gone differently to how they did.
A Little History
As you may well know if you have done a little reading into the origins of the Handpan, the instrument-type was first born in the form of the PANArt Hang, among the picturesque slopes of Bern, in the year 2000. And with a growing demand far greater than supply, PANArt appeared to not just welcome, but also encourage others to take up the hammer and follow their lead - going as far as to share huge swathes of their research online - for all to read, and learn from.
Fast-forward to 2009 however, to a time when a number of the earliest Hang-inspired creations were starting to make themselves known to the market, and seemingly, PANArt’s welcoming stance towards new makers, would rapidly begin to change. In particular (though not limited to), with regards to newcomer, and Spanish maker, Luis Eguiguren, in the form of BEllArt.
BEllArt unveiled their first instruments in 2009, and it has been noted by some in attendance at the Hanghaus in that same year, that the Spanish-made Handpan were at times a topic of some controversy, among the Hang-makers and their guests. And things would go down-hill from there, when private discussions between PANArt, and Luis Eguiguren, failed to reach an amicable conclusion, and the lawyers were wheeled out.
The litigation would begin almost immediately, with the primary reason offered up by PANArt being that the instruments of BEllArt were “too similar”, in terms of appearance, and even down to the name (which was originally "HANArt"). Other makes of Handpan were also beginning to gain market-attention, but most were discernibly different in terms of looks, whereas PANArt considered Luis’s instruments to be intentional “copies”, trading upon, and potentially damaging, their own reputation. The main problem for PANArt now being, that in the earlier days of the Hang’s unleashing, PANArt had not sought to protect their instrument, and had not secured a patent for their new invention.
In PANArt’s (2013 published) book, Hang: Sound Sculpture, PANArt state that:
|A second-generation PANArt Hang, and a circa-2010 BEllArt BElls.|
‘When the first copies of the Hang appeared in 2009, we turned to patent and market attorneys at Bovard AG. We learned that we were already quite late. However, an attempt was made to protect the Hang’s design. Unsuccessfully. There was nothing to be done against the copies by BEllArt (Spain), nor those by Pantheon Steel (U.S.A)...'
While we don't know the exact details of what happened in court when PANArt met BEllArt there in June, 2012 - it is clear that for PANArt, it was too little, too late. And that for right, or for wrong, other than some minor stipulations being placed upon BEllArt (as is our understanding), PANArt had essentially lost their battle to exhibit much in terms of control over those producing their own Hang-inspired Handpans (with the exception of a few patents later granted regarding specific production methods), forever onwards. Clearing the field, for the army of next-generation makers we see today, to bloom within, and build their own instruments freely - In a landscape that might now be very different - had PANArt's legal offensive been victorious. And arguably also freeing PANArt themselves, to return to the playful creativity, and inventiveness, we have once again seen in recent days, from which the Hang itself first sprung.