A San Francisco yacht club has won its court case against America's Cup champion Alinghi, giving it the right to duel with the Swiss team for the trophy.
New York State Supreme Court ruled that the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC), which backs Oracle Racing, is the Challenger of Record, meaning it can help negotiate the rules for the next regatta.
The judge ruled that Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), which had been named the Challenger of Record, was ineligible for the role because it doesn't hold an annual regatta.
Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, who is head of the Alinghi team, responded to the judgement in a statement. "We are disappointed that a technicality made the CNEV invalid, and we are now looking forward to discussions with the Golden Gate Yacht Club to keep the America's Cup functioning," he said.
America's Cup Management (ACM) announced last week that it was postponing the next regatta because of the legal battle.
The 33rd race, due to have taken place in 2009 off the Spanish port of Valencia, has now been put back to a date to be determined.
The Alinghi team, which won the America's Cup in 2003 in New Zealand and defended it last summer in Valencia, will decide if it wants to appeal after reading the ruling, according to ACM chief executive Michel Hodara.
Alinghi beat Team New Zealand 5-2 last summer in the closest America's Cup match in 24 years. Oracle Racing was eliminated during the challenger trials.
While the United States has dominated much of the Cup's history, US-backed boats have failed to make it into the past three America's Cup finals.
The New York judge agreed with the GGYC's contention that Club Náutico Español de Vela's status as Challenger of Record was illegal.
GGYC, which claimed that the Spanish club was essentially a phantom yacht club, argued in court last month that Alinghi chose it as the Challenger of Record so that Alinghi could set rules in its favour for the 2009 race.
The judge ruled that the 1887 document that governs the America's Cup, the Deed of Gift, "expressly requires one specific attribute, namely, that the club have an annual regatta".
"Club Náutico Español de Vela's failure to comply with this requirement nullifies its purported role as Challenger of Record of the 33rd America's Cup," he said.
Alinghi contended that the Spanish club has held two regattas, one of them a children's race and the other a race held after the legal dispute began.
"I'm relieved because at least the judge agreed with what we put forward," Oracle Racing spokesman Tom Ehman said after the judgement.
Ehman added he hoped to begin discussions with other challenging syndicates as soon as Wednesday and would then try to begin negotiations with Alinghi.
Oracle would prefer to avoid a best-of-three series against Alinghi next summer, which could occur if the sides can't agree to a traditional regatta, Ehman said.
Several teams have already joined the competition for the next America's Cup, including Spanish syndicate Desafio Espanol, Mascalzone Latino of Italy, Ayre Challenge of Spain, Shosholoza of South Africa, Team Origin of Britain, Team New Zealand and United Internet Team Germany.
swissinfo with agencies
Alinghi, run by billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli and backed by Geneva's Société Nautique, won the world's premier sailing prize in July in Valencia, Spain, defeating Team New Zealand 5-2 in a best-of-nine contest.
According to the "Deed of Gift" – the rules of the 155-year-old race - the winner gets to pick the next "Challenger of Record", and the two groups establish the rules for the next race.
The Oracle team, led by software billionaire Larry Ellison, took its case to the New York Supreme Court - the sole jurisdiction under Cup rules - stating that Alinghi chose the Club Náutico Español de Vela as the challenger of record to set rules in its favour.