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The patent for the four bar linkage (perhaps better known as the Horst Link) as a bicycle suspension platform is only applicable in the US and not Canada, Europe, or other countries.

How does this affect the design of bikes ridden in the US compared to countries where it is not patented? Is the Horst link more popular elsewhere, or does the patent not restrict the availability of bikes equipped with Horst Link?

Am I allowed to import a bike with Horst link suspension into the US, or would I be breaching the patent?

Is there a reason for the patent only existing in the US, i.e. is it a business decision by the patent holder, or is it a difference in the patent systems that only makes the invention patentable in the US, but nowhere else?

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migrated from bicycles.stackexchange.com Mar 30 '13 at 3:27

This question came from our site for people who build and repair bicycles, people who train cycling, or commute on bicycles.

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I would disagree to close this topic. The four bar suspension system is probably the most widely used suspension system on "real" mountain bikes, and it is used almost exclusively by european mountain bike manufacturers. The patent question does have such a large influence on which bicycles are available in the US, and it has definitely shaped the mountain bike world. I believe that this would be an important part of mountain bike history that should be illuminated. –  user1049697 Mar 25 '13 at 18:33
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It's unclear to me what the practical, answerable question based on an actual problem that you face is here, and this really seems more like a patent or business strategy question than a bicycle question. –  freiheit Mar 25 '13 at 20:40
    
Voting to reopen as I believe this is a constructive question, but the asker needs to clean it up a bit and clarify what specifically is being asked. Too many questions in a single question. –  jm2 Mar 26 '13 at 1:39
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mattnz did a good edit of the question I think. –  user1049697 Mar 26 '13 at 8:49
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I would like to know what patent law says about the "use" of a product which is only patented in the US being used in the US. In a global market, it doesn't make sense to have something only patented in one country if it doesn't restrict people from using (or importing) the product into that country. Otherwise you could just manufacture the product in a country that didn't recognize the patent and people could just import (or order them directly) them from that country. I'm sure they try to stop mass importing by the manufacturers, but what about direct orders by individuals? –  Kibbee Mar 28 '13 at 12:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The patent for the four bar linkage (perhaps better known as the Horst Link) as a bicycle suspension platform is only applicable in the US and not Canada, Europe, or other countries.

This is true, but the Horst Link patent is not far from its expiration. According to Wikipedia:

 "For applications that were pending on and for patents that were still
  in force on June 8, 1995, the patent term is either 17 years from the
  issue date or 20 years from the filing date of the earliest U.S. or
  international (PCT) application to which priority is claimed
  (excluding provisional applications), the longer term applying."

The Horst link patent was filed on September 9th, 1994 and issued on April 23rd, 1996. So best case for Specialized, the patent will expire September 9th, 2014. However, the patent that was granted was a continuation of a patent filed January 21, 1993, and that abandoned patent was a "continuation-in-part" of a patent filed one year earlier to the day. If either of those earlier patents are considered the earliest filing date then The longer of the two terms outlined above would be 17 years after the date of April 23, 1996. That means that the patent would expire the 23rd of next month (April 23rd, 2013). I'm not a patent lawyer, but I would imagine that if Specialized has any grounds to argue that the earlier filings are irrelevant and that the 1994 filing date is the earliest that should be considered, they will do so in court.

How does this affect the design of bikes ridden in the US compared to countries where it is not patented? Is the Horst link more popular elsewhere, or does the patent not restrict the availability of bikes equipped with Horst Link?

Many designs that closely resemble the Horst Linkage but are different enough to avoid patent infringement exist. The classic example is the "faux bar" linkage (as opposed to Horst four bar linkage). The faux bar linkage moves the pivot on the rear of the bike off of the chainstay and onto the seatstay. Among others, Kona and Scott use this design and argue that it works as well if not better than the classic four bar linkage. Some companies license the FSR (Horst link) design from Specialized as well, perhaps the most well known of which is Titus.

My understanding is that designs that would infringe on the Horst Link patent exist in abundance overseas. For instance, that is why Scott entered the US market with hardtails but did not bring their full suspension bikes over until recent years when they switched to a faux bar design.

Am I allowed to import a bike with Horst link suspension into the US, or would I be breaching the patent?

If a manufacturer/company overseas was selling patent protected goods to US consumers they could be held liable and the goods could be confiscated by customs. For transactions between individuals you would be unlikely to encounter any issues.

As I said, I'm no patent attorney, so take this answer with a grain of salt. I would love to get some eyes from patents.stackexchange.com on this question and answer to ensure that everything I've said here is correct.

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All patent laws are territorially limited and generally require separate applications to be filed in each country one wants protection in. There is no such thing as a world-wide patent. (There is the PCT application that is almost world-wide but does not result in a single world-wide patent.)

The U.S. is the largest market that one could tie up with a single patent and represents a big chunk of the world so a US-only patent strategy can make sense. Yes, the patent laws differ from location to location and some subject matter that is patentable in one place is not in others. Mechanical utility inventions are patentable everywhere. It is business methods, medical diagnostics, transgenic mice, etc. that are controversial. One way the differing laws keeps many US inventions as US-only is that we have had a one year grace period where something can be used publically and even sold up to a year before an application is filed. In most of the rest of the world showing something publically before filing somewhere kills all chance of patenting.

A patent gives its owner the right to exclude others from making, selling, offering for sale, importing and using. In practice it would not be worth going after an individual but the law applies the same to a dealer or an individual.

There is an issue (probably not directly relevant) called "patent exhaustion" that is going to the Supreme Court soon. They just decided a case on copyright exhaustion. That case was about text books printed and sold out of the US under license from the copyright holder. Was the copyright exhausted? Or could the copyright holder keep those books out of the US? They said the publisher got paid once and couldn't control the resale by an end-user.

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My understanding was that a patent prevented a reseller from importing but not an individual however this may just be actually what happens rather than the legal context. However it seems that there is less than a month to go on the patent so-its-less-than-1-month-until-horst-link-patent-expires

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There is such a thing as an international patent - relatively recent.

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Not correct. There is an international patent application (PCT application) but it does not lead to an international patent. See Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_Cooperation_Treaty There is also a very recent Euorpean wide patent in the works but may not become a realty since it calls for everything to be in either English, French of German and Spain may not ratify it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_patent –  George White Mar 31 '13 at 16:52
    
Mr. Bailey, people rely on information here. Posting such erroneous comments may have far-reaching negative consequences. Please try to be more careful. –  Yorick Apr 2 '13 at 15:27

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