In this article, we’ll be discussing a Bicycle Packaging System by Trek, US publication 20210269230. The publication date is Sept. 2nd and the filing date is Feb 27th, 2020.
10/13 Edit: This actually has been granted. The application hasn’t been updated, but PAIR shows a notice of allowance on 9/21. So, this belongs to Trek.
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10/12 Update: Trek has responded publicly on the WB Instagram with this (and at the bottom of this page):
I hope they ran that ‘3 year’ thing by their legal dept… That could kill this patent based on the 1-year grace period rule. 3 years ago was Oct. 2018, so filing had to happen before Oct 2019. This was filed Feb. 27th 2020. They’d have to prove it’s use explicitly after Feb 27th, 2019. That could be enough to invalidate it, assuming it’s actually in China. The word ‘about’ doesn’t help much, the USPTO doesn’t like that word.
Here’s the code: “If one discloses one’s own work more than 1 year before the filing of the patent application, that person is barred from obtaining a patent.“
They might be able to maintain the US patent based on this rule, but good luck with that. Tough to get a bike box out in China without printing something about it, somewhere.
“A person shall be entitled to a patent unless (b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States.“
I don’t see any foreign priority in the Application Data Sheet or a provisional application. And it wouldn’t be wise to say the box in China is similar due to the ‘obvious variant’ rule. Again, assuming there is a box in China.
And, the box pictures are in English, and this is filed in the US and Europe. Take that how you’d like.
In short, there are two possible scenarios: If there’s a box in China like they say, the patent may be invalidated by their time-table admission. If it’s not in China and they want to keep this patent, well you do the math. The worst part is this could be invalidated anyway, even if it was never in China. If someone challenges this and uses this admission, the courts may not favor Trek. But that’s the attorneys/judges jobs to deal with that. Btw, this isn’t a legal opinion, just observations.
But, I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want to see this invalidated.
Brief Sumary (tl;dr)
This may be one of the more important articles I’ve written in a long time. While the technical features of this new box aren’t groundbreaking like an active suspension system, this document shows much larger business decisions and directions of one of the largest bike companies in the world. Trek have designed a box that includes a work surface. So, when the consumer receives the bike, they can work on it without the bike touching the ground or getting grease/oil on the ground. If you haven’t figured out where I’m going with this yet, Trek are considering a direct-to-consumer business model, as this box is explicitly designed to be shipped to the home, not a bike shop.
Back in October 2020, Trek announced they were changing their bike packaging in an attempt to reduce their contribution to all the plastic shit on earth. All-in-all, it looks like they removed a bunch of bubble wrap and replaced it with paper and cardboard. That may not seem like much, but as a result, Trek say they’re reducing plastic waste by 50k lbs per year.
To put that in perspective, that’s 4,344 Trek Session frames (medium = 11.51 lbs with shock). I know there are a lot of talk about reducing carbon waste in this industry, but let’s take a moment and absorb that *claimed* number. I hope they’re making good on it. But I digress.
More importantly, we’re all well aware of the direct-to-consumer (D2C) model used by companies like Canyon, YT, Commencal, etc. These companies will ship a bike directly to you, nearly assembled, cutting out the middleman (bike shops). This allows manufacturers to lower costs, increase profits, or both. Every hand that touches the bike has to get paid, so reduce the number of hands. Very simple concept.
In addition, we’re also well aware of the fucking insane price increases of bikes the last 18ish months. The big-dicks at Trek (and all manufacturers) are smart enough to know this isn’t sustainable and will eventually affect their bottom line. So, what’s a good way to lower costs and possibly increase profits? Yup, cutting out the middleman. But, I’d like to point out this was filed a few weeks prior to the world shutting down, so don’t think this idea came from the supply issues. Trek were just ahead of the game.
I’ve been holding onto this one for a while because I assumed it was the same concept Trek announced a few months ago. But, after a little research, this is not the same as that design. In fact, there are very important lines in this that could shake up the industry as a whole.
Currently, Trek does not do D2C. Their website states:
As you’re searching for your new bike, you’ll be able to see whether we’ve got it in stock in our warehouses and/or if it’s available at a Trek retailer near you! Order it from us, and we’ll ship it to the Trek retailer of your choice.
Well, that might be changing here pretty soon.
Here’s the lines:
…there are individuals who do not have easy access to a cycling shop and/or who are too busy to go to one. Such individuals may choose to order a bicycle over the telephone or through a website, and request home delivery of the bicycle. Once such an order is processed, the bicycle is shipped to the purchaser’s home, typically in packaging from the manufacturer, and typically requiring partial or complete assembly by the purchaser.
Described herein are methods and systems for packaging bicycles that are to be directly delivered to end users. The proposed packaging systems are designed to be user friendly, and do not require the user to lift the bicycle frame or other bicycle components out the top of the box.
This suggests that Trek are considering a D2C model.
10/13 edit: And as we can see from Trek’s comment, they’re not saying it’s not D2C.
There’s not a whole lot to this one. It’s a box, how complicated can it be? FIG. 2A shows the closed box. Nothing special. Ride Bikes. Have Fun. Feel Good.
FIG. 2B shows the open box. Special. So, the box looks normal from the outside, but it’s designed in such a way that the outside surface becomes a work surface, noted by the little footprints. This is where a consumer can take the bike out and work on it, without worrying about touching the ground, because they probably won’t have a bike stand.
The folded down front of the packaging system also acts as a work surface that provides the user with an area to assemble the bicycle, while protecting the floor from scratches, grease, etc.
After you open the box, you just slide the bike out and assemble it. Pretty simple. It’ll also come with a tool kit, which will probably include the basics. If you have any issues, the box will have all the info you need on it.
The work surface further includes text that provides assistance to the user, such as a customer support phone number, a uniform resource locator (URL) that links to an owner’s manual for the bicycle, etc.
FIGs. 5C, D, and E show the fork mount. This is a plastic piece and will hold the fork axle in place with a Velcro strap 515.
Lastly, from a packaging perspective, this box is designed to be assembled without any staples or adhesives. Oh I like that.
…the packaging system is configured to be assembled without the use of staples or adhesive.
First, I’ll commend the engineer that designed this. He did a great job. If you want to be referenced here, please shoot me an email.
So, we have a bike box that can be shipped to a consumer, then used as a work surface. We also have a line stating, explicitly, the intent is to ship directly to homes. I think we can safely assume that Trek are considering a huge business shift to D2C, or at least partial D2C. I try not to sensationalize the things I write about and let you, as the reader, make your own decisions. In this case, I cannot stress the larger ramifications and implications related to a fucking box.
Is this another nail in the coffin for local shops? I feel for them. What can they do? Not much. I fully expect this model to be used by other companies as well, and Trek will probably license this box to others. This is the way of the world.
If you’re like me, you’re wondering why this can happen in the bike world but can’t happen in the automotive world. Simple: franchise laws that prohibit auto manufacturers from selling directly to consumers.
Please don’t kill me, I’m just the messenger.
Great work finding this. Not the techno stuff that gets the nerd juice flowing but, as you point out, more important in the long run
Thanks Mike, appreciate that!
Here’s some background information that might be helpful. This is a bike box that we have been shipping in China for around three years. We use this box in China so we’re able to provide access to Trek products across a huge region with a smaller retail presence for a market with 1.4 billion people. It’s helped us get our products to remote areas where in some places there is little to no bicycle retail. We’re not currently planning on expanding its use beyond China.
This is going to age like milk or wine.