Bearings manufacturer CeramicSpeed caused quite a stir at the recent Eurobike trade shown in Germany with their chainless, drive-shaft based drivetrain. In the last few years alone, the cycling industry has seen many innovations, including electronic gears, more gears, fewer gears, disc brakes, power meter developments, e-bikes, tubeless tyre technology and an ever-increasing appreciation of aerodynamics in both bicycle design and clothing as manufacturers and riders look for the latest “marginal gain”. Could the humble drivetrain be the next route of innovation?
The cycling media are keen to pick up on cycling-related patent applications and are known to speculate whether the inventions disclosed in those patent applications will be seen on bikes of the future. Of course, this may indeed turn out to be the case, but it is by no means a given. For example, the product to which the patent application is directed may ultimately turn out to not be commercially viable. Another reason could relate to an often overlooked aspect of a company’s IP strategy, in addition to patent filings: freedom-to-operate.
One aspect of patent protection, which may seem counter-intuitive to some, is that having a granted patent doesn’t automatically give you the right to work the patented invention. Instead, it only allows you to control its use by third parties. For example, a manufacturer may obtain a granted patent for an inventive improvement to electronic gear shifting. However, if a third party has an earlier patent claiming the broad concept of electronic gear shifting itself, by implementing their improved system the manufacturer would be infringing the third party’s patent. Freedom-to-operate is therefore an important consideration in a business’s IP strategy, for example when seeking investment (investors are typically looking for minimal risk), or entering new markets. As with most things IP-related, timing is important with freedom-to-operate and specialist advice should be sought.
GJE has recently launched a bespoke Patent Risk Evaluation product aimed at helping clients to understand their freedom-to-operate position. If you would like more information, please visit our ConsultIP page. To find out how our Advanced Engineering team can help protect your innovation, see here.