After listening to the Pinkbike podcast about the ‘spy shot‘ bike, I figured I’d write some thoughts down on the topic, since I’m exclusively writing about products that the manufacturers aren’t releasing yet, may never release, and haven’t asked me to write about. I often think about what I’m doing, and if it’s right or wrong.
Writing about patents isn’t a new idea, and writing about them in the bike industry isn’t new either. It’s even got a name – IP Watchdog. I’m just doing it more regularly than most, because I saw a gap in media offerings. The entire schtick of this website provides unfiltered, unrequested, and no permission articles. I just write what comes out. I don’t send messages to these manufacturers asking for their blessings or more information, because I don’t have to. It’s great. I have everything I need to understand an idea in a single public document. My explicit intent here is to bring the voice of the engineers/designers/fabricators to the public, not the marketers. It’s fun because I don’t have to make anyone happy.
I find it very interesting that there’s some level of controversy surrounding the recent spy shots. Are these patent articles (or the numerous others before me) not very similar? Because they’ve been reported for a long time. I’m taking material that wouldn’t otherwise be publicized by the manufacturer, and writing about them so everyone knows wtf is going on behind closed doors, with zero permissions from anyone. Is there some level of spy-threshold that’s being discovered as an industry, where patent documents are below and spy shots are above the threshold? Yet, these articles are generally accepted, but an actual image isn’t? I write some super detailed shit here. A picture is just a picture.
The reality is, is that the patent documents can be considered pseudo-spy shots. The only difference is the manufactures know these are public, they know when they’re released, and they’re just hoping no one publishes the content. They’re banking on the public not knowing how to read them or even looking them up. If a manufacturer doesn’t do their own public release, then my publication is a spy shot, right?. Therefore, this entire website can be considered a spy-type website, with some technical sauce drizzled on top.
Lets talk about a patent document for a minute. For those that don’t know, a patent document is inherently public and temporary, and are released roughly 18 months after the initial application filing date. The reason they’re public is for the good of human-kind. Lets take a hypothetical situation where a manufacturer has patented an incredible new suspension system, and the document is never released. Then, the manufacturer never actually makes it. So, the idea now exists, the record doesn’t, and never will. We, as humans, will never be able to use this idea and we’ll never be able to improve on it to move our civilization forward. But, the manufacturer could keep everyone else from making the new suspension system, assuming someone else ever figures it out on their own. This is why they’re public, and why they expire. We, as a civilized group, have determined that an individual/company has the absolute right to an idea, temporarily, but the idea belongs to human-kind for the rest of time after that. This is the fundamental purpose of a patent, it’s limitations, and publicity.
As far as personal issues with inventors/companies, I’ve gotten very few angry emails. Most manufacturers understand these documents are public, they know the exact date it’ll be published, and they have control over whether they make a public disclosure before the USPTO does. By the time it gets to me, they’ve had the 18 months from filing. That doesn’t include indeterminant amount of time before they even filed the application.
That being said, patents in the bike industry have been largely ignored. The flow of ideas is fairly immense and the technology being developed is mind-blowing, at times. As such, I’m in the fortunate position to not be effected by embargos or manufacturer requests. My feed of information comes from the USPTO themselves, and the manufacturers have absolutely zero control of when these documents are released to the public. Alternatively, they have complete control over the content of these documents. So, in the end, they can control what we read, but not when we read it. But it’s crucial to include all of the legal protection information they can, so these documents are typically pretty juicy (minus Shimano). Unfortunately, I can’t report on the actual product, but I can report on 90% of the final product. It may not look or perform exactly like my articles say, but it’ll be close.
Let’s take the new Yeti suspension articles I wrote late last year as an example. By the time I wrote those, that document had been sitting in the public domain for like 4 months… 4 months of zero coverage. It was an absolute banger of a patent document and no one ever looked at it or wrote about it. I knew, for a fact, that this particular idea was the one that’ll kick this website off, and I was right. Pinkbike took it and ran one of the articles, which was so awesome, and it’s been followed up by other publishers taking some of my other articles. Yeti didn’t want to comment to PB, and I even contacted them. They basically told me they can’t talk about it, but were very gracious about the article. Nice people over there.
It appears the issue is largely based on possible embargoed information. Maybe all these websites have the same bike, and the manufacturer-determined public disclosure is on a certain date that might correspond to some important legal date (who knows). A spy shot, stolen docs, or patent article would otherwise ruin the surprise and could effect current inventory (though not a huge issue right now…). Referencing the Yeti article, when/if that bike is ever actually released, there will be almost zero new information beyond my articles. We know they’re changing the Switch system and we know they’re developing an E-bike. They even showed us multiple other possible designs for the same concept. So, did I ruin the embargo already, possibly years before these publishers ever get their hands on them? Yes. On top of that, the Yeti articles disappointed a lot of people in the public because their new 2021 SB150 is about to be obsolete, even without Yeti telling them it’s old news. But what are we supposed to do? Ignore public documents? Just like we’re supposed to ignore an unreleased bike parked in a parking lot? Nah.
I think it’s important to note that legitimate spy shots, actual pictures, can bring some issues to inventors or manufacturers. Those pictures could be considered a public disclosure. After a public disclosure, the USPTO gives someone one year to apply for protection. So, if a picture is taken and is publicized, the manufacture may be forced to rush through development to get a patentable idea to the USPTO. After the one year, the idea is considered part of the public domain and no one can protect it, ever.
That brings us to the NSMB article. My articles will probably fall under everything that NSMB doesn’t like. I like this line in particular.
…it doesn’t seem like much hardship for the riders who consume mountain bike media to wait to see bikes that may be destined for production, while it seems to be a royal pain in the ass for the company whose product was compromised.
I get this. I really do. People don’t know what they don’t know. (Almost) everything I write is something new, and no one knows wtf is coming. Would it hurt you to not know about something you already don’t know about? No. That being said, do we owe anything to these manufacturers?
In an era when it’s virtually impossible to create content about mountain bikes without having a cozy relationship with those who work to produce the products we ride, it’s a little refreshing from my perspective to see a media outlet go against a company’s wishes.
I’ve been able to create an entire website (albeit, small right now) with zero relationships with those that work in the industry. In fact, I’ve made quite a few acquaintances already in this industry, some of them appreciative of the genuine technical assessment of the products rather than a “Bike gud, buy bike” type article. There’s definitely some level of appreciation for unplanned releases, though maybe not from everyone.
A photo the same PB user took… suggest that he was lying on his belly underneath a truck when he took the photos… This seems a little much to me. Does mountain biking really need paparazzi?
I can tell you that I am laying on my figurative belly, looking straight into the asshole of these patents to get this information to the public. I’m not justifying intrusive and obnoxious paparazzi behavior, especially when it has to do with a person. If you need to go out of your way to fuck with someone for a shot, you should be quartered. But, shots of a bike in a parking lot or trailhead, or a patent document aren’t intrusive as they’re now explicitly public knowledge.
I’m fully aware that these articles could [passively] impact embargos, they could ruin the manufactures plans to control the release of a product, they could ruin plans for a publisher to release a component or article first, and this site will only inject itself into that process more and more every day as more people read. I hope one day that these articles impact the process of product releases, and more manufacturers see the value in purposeful technical writing in conjunction with a product review. In that way, potential customers aren’t subject to marketers. Rather, the engineering will do the marketing, the way it should be.
In the end, the bike industry now has a [small] publisher that’ll write about something that may be currently embargoed or unreleased, whether everyone likes it or not. This is really just another dynamic that may effect release dates. Hell, these manufacturers might not even give a shit about me, since they’re not deliverable products yet; but they’ll give you a really good idea of wtf may be coming before anyone else writes about them.
I’d like to hear from you. Are these articles similar to a spy shot of an unreleased product? Or are they different enough?
Credit for the thumbnail image: https://onlinebicyclemuseum.co.uk/patent-wars-introduction/