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Stringing Them Along

For the past decade, visitors on one of Costa Rica's 50-plus "canopy tours" have enjoyed a bird's-eye view of the tropics by zipping across cables that run through the trees. But thanks to the enterprising actions of Canadian transplant Darren Hreniuk, the popular adventure attractionis in trouble: in April, Costa Rica's National Registry began enforcing Hreniuk's claim as the sole patent holder to all canopy operations in the country.

Hreniuk, operator of the Original Canopy Tour based at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge, maintains he createdthe first zipline tour in 1994. He didn't patent the idea until three years later, however, after other tours had entered the country. Most operators have scoffed at the patent, noting that zipline technology has been in use recreationally since the seventies. But empowered by the registry's order, Hreniuk has attempted (with temporary success) to shut down his competitors and confiscate their equipment. In response, they have jointly appealed the patent, forcing the constitutional chamber of Costa Rica's Supreme Court to suspend the closures pending further study.

"We have nothing against Hreniuk," says the canopy group's lawyer, Alvaro Carazo, adding that he blames the situation on the ignorance and incompetence of the patent officials. But until the high court hands down its final verdict, the fate of these canopy tours is left dangling in the trees.

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