News Archive
NEWS: Patent Law Suit Strikes Again

Patent Suit Forces Scott USA to Change Design

By Vernon Felton

The Point of Contention: see that rear pivot, the one just in front of the rear dropout. That's the Horst Link.

Bicycle Retailer and Industry News recently reported that Scott USA has decided to drop its legal challenge of Specialized Bicycle’s suspension patents and—here’s the kicker—the end result is that Scott USA will not sell its Genius full-suspension bikes here in the United States. .

The root of the debate lies in a single rear pivot which creates what’s known as the Horst Link. The Horst Link, for those of you who are new to this debate, is a set of rear pivots located on the chainstay just below and in front of the rear drop-out. This suspension design element is named after designer Horst Leitner, who created the system back in 1991 and featured it on his line of AMP bikes. Though AMP went belly up (as far as bikes are concerned) in the late 90’s the design has lived on in Specialized Bicycles line of bikes. Specialized bought the Horst Link patent in May of 1998 and has used the courts to rid competitors’ bike lines of the Horst Link ever since. Giant, GT, Jamis, Ellsworth (though Tony would contend this point), Turner, Intense and a fistful of other companies all used (or still use) the Horst Link on their bikes.

Why? What’s so damn great about this simple pivot point? Oh, that’s a long story, so I’ll strive to keep this short: the Horst Link essentially allows the rear suspension to cycle freely—even when the rear brakes are applied. This is critical because you typically want your rear suspension to move in as smooth and uninhabited a fashion as possible when you’re bombing down some f’d up terrain with that right brake lever locked in a death grip.

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The easiest alternative to the Horst Link (on a four-bar style bike) is to place the rear pivot on the seat stay, just above the rear quick release. To the untrained eye, the difference is negligible—but you can feel the difference (at least on longer-travel dualies) when you apply the brakes on a seat-stay pivot bike and the rear suspension stiffens slightly and the rear wheel stops sucking up bumps so seamlessly.

So….for all of the above reasons (and a few more I won’t bore you with) the Horst Link was a critical element of many bike company designs in the late 90s. Specialized Bicycle purchase of the patent and steady clamp down on the design forced several companies to completely ditch popular bike designs and search for some new Holy Grail of suspension. That’s essentially why I-Drive was born and it also explains why so many companies (such as Giant, Haro, Ibis and Iron Horse) are pursuing "floating pivot point" designs that take a design cue from Santa Cruz Bicycles' patented Virtual Pivot Point system.

NOTE TO READERS: I received an email from Rob Roskopp at Santa Cruz Bicycles (shortly after this story was published), reminding me that Floating Pivot Point designs are NOT the same as his company's Virtual Pivot Point design.

To put it in Rob's own words, "Only Santa Cruz and Intense use the patented VPP System and the other companies listed are using a “floating pivot point” system that is essentially derived from VPP, but doesn’t use the counter rotating links found only on VPP bikes." Point well taken.

Undiscovered Genius: here's the bike that Scott won't sell in the U.S.A.

But I’ve lapsed and strayed far and long from the headline here, right? Scott USA recently returned to the U.S. after a long stay in Europe (where the brand is huge—crazy, superstar popular). Back in Europe, you’ll find Horst Links on damn near every dualie because Specialized Bicycle’s patent rights on Horst Link don’t apply over there.

So, Scott USA (despite its yankee name) has been disco dancing in Euro for years and had a line of very cool bikes (that’d be the “Genius” models…which are damn popular in 60 other countries) sporting Horst links. When they returned to America a few years ago they were hot to bring their Genius bikes to market…alas, there were the pesky lawyers to contend with. So, for the past year and a half we’ve been hearing that the issue was going to be resolved and that Genius bikes would one day frolick and hold hands with FSRs here in America….that ain’t going to happen.

Specialized was once fairly open to licensing the Horst Link to other companies, but has become a bit more guarded over the years. Bottom line: if you’re a small company that presents little risk to Specialized’s market share, they might let you pay to put the Horst Link on your bikes. If you’re a real rival for floor space in bike shops, however, the odds of Specialized licensing that patent to you are slim to none.

“The FSR design has proved itself and our business has matured. Now differentiation is more important to us and our dealers, so we are not looking for additional licensees for this technology,” Sinyard told BRAIN.

Scott's Ransom is their current long-travel answer to FSR. Expect a new cross-country design in 07.

Scott USA, for its part, is publicly stating that this is no big thing—that they’ve got other great designs on the back burner, which they will focus on instead—including their all-carbon freeride bike, the Ransom. They’ve also hinted that they will have the three to five-inch travel segment of their line completely fleshed out and available in 2007.

“After 18 months of battling it out in court the judge said the case was too close to call. The next step was going to trial,” Scott Montgomery, Scott USA’s vice president, told BRAIN. “Our dealers have pre-ordered so many Ransoms that it didn’t make sense to continue to spend money on the suit. We have other great designs in development, so it’s time to settle with Specialized and move on,” Montgomery said. “Of course we missed the three- to five-inch suspension travel segment because of our involvement in the suit, but we will have that addressed in 2007.”

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Posted Thu Feb12, 2009, 11:34 AM — By Mountain bike suspension
OK so the license that Specialized bought is stopping other companies (unless licensed) to utilise the horst link pivot point, how comes that Scott are allowed to release the bike in other markets apart from the US is the patent not world wide?

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