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  1. #1
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    Specialized Lawsuit - At it again?

    Similar thread.

    New target = Volagi.

    From today's Merc:



    War of the road bikes

    By Howard Mintz

    hmintz@mercurynews.com
    Posted: 01/02/2012 07:04:26 PM PST

    When Robert Choi and Barley Forsman quit their jobs in Morgan Hill nearly two years ago at one of the nation's largest high-end bicycle makers, they were pursuing a Silicon Valley-style dream. They wanted to develop their own slick, high-performance bike in a company they dubbed Volagi, Latin for "a will to go."

    The two buddies and cycling enthusiasts established their company and designed a bike that sells for as much as $4,500 a pop.

    But their former bosses want to take the air out of their tires. They've sued Choi and Forsman in a case set for trial this week in Santa Clara County Superior Court, where a jury will be asked to settle a bitter legal feud that has all the makings of a David vs. Goliath standoff.

    Jury selection is set to begin Tuesday, and the trial is expected to unfold over the next two weeks.

    Specialized Bicycle Components, one of the nation's most prolific and well-known makers of high-performance bikes, filed the lawsuit last year, alleging that Choi and Forsman stole the design for their bike before leaving the South County-based company in 2010. They say Volagi and its signature bike, the "Liscio," is based on Specialized's trade secrets.

    Choi and Forsman deny stealing any designs from Specialized, maintaining that their former employer is simply bitter because the pair have developed a unique product that's drawing raves in the biking world. The partners view the lawsuit as an attempt by a powerful
    company and its well-paid lawyers to wipe out a small competitor.

    "They were embarrassed," said Forsman, 41. "A lot of this came down to appearance."

    Added Choi, 50: "We thought we had a better idea. And in order for us to pursue it, we were going to have to quit Specialized. For them to pursue this is an incredible surprise."

    Specialized's lawyers could not be reached for comment Monday. However, in court papers they depict Choi and Forsman as "two former employees who stole (the company's) trade secrets and started their own competing company during their employment with Specialized."

    Specialized alleges in court documents that Choi and Forsman schemed to design a bike to rival their line of "Roubaix" bikes, which can sell for as much as $11,000 and is described as one of the company's "most significant sources of revenue."

    Mike Sinyard, Specialized's CEO and founder, said in a deposition that when he visited Volagi's website after hearing about it from a Las Vegas trade show, he recalled, "There was our bike."

    The jury will have to sort out the competing accounts between Specialized, founded in Morgan Hill in the mid-1970s and now a company that sells hundreds of thousands of bikes each year, and Cotati-based Volagi, which to date has sold about 175 bikes, according to its founders.

    Thus far, judges have rejected Specialized's attempts to shut down Volagi's sales of its bikes, but the company plans to ask a jury to order the firm to pay "substantial" damages and relinquish the patents to its bike designs.

    But Forsman and Choi say their bike does not resemble anything Specialized produces, and is in fact designed to fill a void in the cycling world for people who aren't professional racers. They are convinced Specialized figured the partners would just pedal away when they got sued.

    "We did it above board," Choi said. "We thought it was the American way for us to quit the company and go on our way. They just didn't like that we had a successful bike, perhaps. And they thought we would just cave."




    I own some S product, and they make some great gear, but it strikes me that they go out of their way to put the screws to the little guy, much more than can be claimed as customary "turf defense".

    I'll also be interested to see what the expiration of the Horst patent brings.


    -D

  2. #2
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    I've grown up with Specialized products and I still ride them weekly as an adult. I love the company and what they produce...but NOT how they treat the little guys. Come on, these guys have only sold 175 bikes so far...I'm sure Specilized dealers sell more than 175 Roubaix bikes in just one day!

    Here's the Volagi frame...





    And the Roubaix frame that the CEO is quoted as saying is one of their "most significant sources of revenue"

    "It's not about the bike"

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frenzzy View Post
    I've grown up with Specialized products and I still ride them weekly as an adult. I love the company and what they produce...but NOT how they treat the little guys. Come on, these guys have only sold 175 bikes so far...I'm sure Specilized dealers sell more than 175 Roubaix bikes in just one day!

    Here's the Volagi frame...





    And the Roubaix frame that the CEO is quoted as saying is one of their "most significant sources of revenue"

    Specialized sucks ass.

    The roubaix is a race frame, the Volagi is an endurance frame. The Volagi has disc mounts for chrissakes.

    Mike Sinyard is going to hell.
    Stupid, but sometimes witty. Occasionally brilliant. Slow and fat though.

    Specialized sucks dong

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    I am ashamed of my old Specialized shoes and jacket. I really think it's time to boycott Specialized for their unethical business practices. I know corporate greed is bad, but this stuff is over the top.

    I was very disappointed to find that a LBS that I have not been to in years is yet another S dealer. Are there any shops left in Santa Cruz that do not carry Specialized?

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    Hope it works out for the best for all partied involved.
    Last edited by pmarshall; 01-03-2012 at 10:53 AM. Reason: Grumpy this morning and shot my mouth off!
    They never made the "Slowster"

  6. #6
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    The floggings will continue...

    ...until morale improves.

    IMHO; Specialized is pursuing this lawsuit more as a warning to current employees thinking of following the route of Choi and Forsman. Spesh may have sensed a mass exodus afoot; perhaps their non-compete clause wasn't as strong as it should have been.

    Besides alienating consumers (I've had 6 Specialized bikes) they are going to have a harder time attracting new engineers/designers with "fire in their bellies" for product innovation.
    The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent any policy of the CA Dept. of Parks & Rec.

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by iheartbicycles View Post

    The Volagi has disc mounts for chrissakes.
    Disk brakes?! About ****ing time! Where do I order?
    Last edited by d-bug; 01-03-2012 at 10:35 AM.
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    ...People thought they were getting a good fork because it was a "fox".

  9. #9
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    Specialized is now a huge supporter of this site and I'm thankful for that. They've also been stepping up a bit in the community outreach.

    I don't much about this lawsuit but it sounds unfortunate. I met and interviewed Robert Choi about his bike in 2010. Really cool guy and I think he started Vistalite too before joining Specialized.

    Volagi Cycles road bike with disc brakes and vertical compliant ride - YouTube

    fc

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by icantdrive65 View Post

    I was very disappointed to find that a LBS that I have not been to in years is yet another S dealer. Are there any shops left in Santa Cruz that do not carry Specialized?
    the bicycle trip is one for sure. epicenter maybe?

  11. #11
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    So exactly what is the technical arguments here? Geometry, angles, features? All curvy road bikes look the same to me. It's not like one sports a DW and the other a VPP.

  12. #12
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    None of that excuses Specialized many aggregious acts. They have a track record of predatory IP lawsuits. Not to mention outright theft.
    Stupid, but sometimes witty. Occasionally brilliant. Slow and fat though.

    Specialized sucks dong

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by iheartbicycles View Post
    Specialized sucks ass.

    The roubaix is a race frame, the Volagi is an endurance frame. The Volagi has disc mounts for chrissakes.

    Mike Sinyard is going to hell.
    Just to clarify but I believe the Roubaix is actually Specialized's endurance frame. The Tarmac is their race frame. That's my understanding anyways. I own neither.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carl Hungus View Post
    Just to clarify but I believe the Roubaix is actually Specialized's endurance frame. The Tarmac is their race frame. That's my understanding anyways. I own neither.
    That's the point. This new company is creating a niche around high end endurance frames. Specialized doesnt make one. The Roubaix is a frame made for racing cobble stones and the like (IE Paris-Roubaix).

    The new company is putting disc tabs on their bike, which means it CANT be raced as its not UCI legal.
    Stupid, but sometimes witty. Occasionally brilliant. Slow and fat though.

    Specialized sucks dong

  15. #15
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    Having been close to a few patent disputes I'm curious what they will be arguing is the stolen IP. Carbon bikes all look pretty much the same on the surface, but that can be deceptive. Most of the real IP seems to be in the layup process and design for stress points - for example, redesigning a carbon road frame and fork around disc rather than rim brakes.
    I do like the disc mounts on the Volagi - that's pretty cool. IMO if Spesh were going to add disc mounts to any of their higher end road line it would have been the Roubaix.
    "You are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I have ever met."

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by DerrickT View Post
    So exactly what is the technical arguments here? Geometry, angles, features? All curvy road bikes look the same to me. It's not like one sports a DW and the other a VPP.
    That's exactly what I would want to hear, too, before jumping to conclusions.

    I'm no Specialized fan boy. (Far from it!) But the following statement raised a flag for me:

    Added Choi, 50: "We thought we had a better idea. And in order for us to pursue it, we were going to have to quit Specialized. [...]"
    This makes it sound either like these people initially presented their ideas within Specialized but the ideas were rejected, or like they had the ideas while at Specialized but kept it to themselves. I'm just a lowly software engineer working for a Silicon Valley company, but even in the paperwork that I signed when I started work for my employer, there were clauses about claims by the company on all the work I produced, even on my own time, during the time I work for them. I'd be surprised to hear if these people weren't subject to similar waivers of rights on any design work they do while they work at Specialized. If so, that would lend a lot of credence to Specialized's position.

    You may not be a fan of such contract clauses for total ownership of an employee's creative work by the employer, but once you've signed those documents as you're being hired (hopefully after having read them thoroughly), you've essentially acceded to them and can't make much of a valid case against them afterward. Yes, you can attempt to defy them and try your luck at challenging them in court afterward if you have sufficient resources to do so, but that still doesn't reduce the position of Specialized to "corporate bullying". They'd merely be exercising a right granted to them by these people when they joined the company, in that scenario.

    Of course, all of this is only if there was such a grant of employees' intellectual property to Specialized in their contracts. Otherwise, this whole viewpoint goes out the window and any merit in Specialized's case would have to be based on the similarities of the designs in question.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by iheartbicycles View Post
    That's the point. This new company is creating a niche around high end endurance frames. Specialized doesnt make one. The Roubaix is a frame made for racing cobble stones and the like (IE Paris-Roubaix).
    The Roubaix is definitively a high end endurance frame. The frame is made to sell to the high mileage masses, not to a few racers in a specific race.

    From the Specialized website:
    "From the punishing cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix to high-mileage weekend rides, no other bikes come close to balancing compliance and performance over the long haul like the Roubaix and Secteur. Year after year, these bikes prove that smoother is undeniably faster and, of course, easier on your backside."

    That said, like the Santa Cruz suing Yeti, we don't know what goes on behind the scenes. (tho it sure looks like bullying)

    P

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    Quote Originally Posted by erginguney View Post
    I'm just a lowly software engineer working for a Silicon Valley company, but even in the paperwork that I signed when I started work for my employer, there were clauses about claims by the company on all the work I produced, even on my own time, during the time I work for them. I'd be surprised to hear if these people weren't subject to similar waivers of rights on any design work they do while they work at Specialized. If so, that would lend a lot of credence to Specialized's position.
    AFAIK those contract clauses are invalid in california:
    Preventing Your CA Employer from Owning Your Inventions
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by erginguney View Post
    That's exactly what I would want to hear, too, before jumping to conclusions.

    I'm no Specialized fan boy. (Far from it!) But the following statement raised a flag for me:

    Quote:
    Added Choi, 50: "We thought we had a better idea. And in order for us to pursue it, we were going to have to quit Specialized. [...]"
    .
    Ding ding. Sounds like the guy had an idea for a better road bike, while working for Specialized. Even if they did not want to develop it, they still have rights to it. Unless he shows he thought of the idea outside of specialized and used no specialized resources towards it, he has a week case. Or as stated, he went to Specialized and worked out rights to work with the technology.

    Anyone hear of Gore-tex. That man worked for Dupont. He came up with Gore-tex while working for Dupont. He asked Dupont to patent the technology. They would not. He asked for, and received permission in writing from Dupont, to patent it himself. He did this and received the patent. He subsequently left Dupont and started a company around said patent. He even asked Dupont to work with him on the technology. They did not as they saw no value. When Gore-tex took off, Dupont sued him. They lost because he had everything in writing giving him the right to do everything he did. I wonder if these guys have a similar letter? Something tells me they don't.
    Last edited by Vespasianus; 01-03-2012 at 12:43 PM.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Moto'n'PushBiker View Post
    AFAIK those contract clauses are invalid in california:
    Preventing Your CA Employer from Owning Your Inventions
    I didn't know that. That changes the question into whether they came up with the design in accordance with the stipulations of that law.
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  21. #21
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    Both parties are willing to go to trial. At $400-500 an hour per lawyer, that ain't cheap, so I assume that they both think that they have a great case.
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    I think a lot of people are hating on a company without having any sort of knowledge of the actual situation at hand. I doubt that Specialized just goes around and sues everyone in their way.
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  23. #23
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    This is interesting

    history of the roubaix:

    Specialized Roubaix - A Short History - Serving Torrance, Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, San Pedro and Lomita

    Specific to 2010 renovations in design:

    This construction method created the frame in four parts: the top tube/head tube/downtube section was made in a single unit. The seat tube was a separate unit, as were the seat stays. The bottom bracket area, chain stays and a short lug to connect the seat tube and down tube were fashioned as one piece. This gave the Tarmac best-in-class bottom bracket and chain stay stiffness, the part of the bike where torsional flex would waste the most power. And it allowed the bike's engineers to build in vertical compliance in the seat stays and top tube, to give the bike a smoother ride.
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    I have to admit, 's' have appears to have done their fair share of bullying in the past, but in this particular instance, it sounds like they may actually have a case. If I read correctly, the design was developed while the 2 were employed by Specialized, and Specialized chose to go with a different design. If the work was in fact done as Specialized states, then it is their design.

    If I code something at work, and my co-worker creates something similar, and the company decides to go the co-workers route instead of mine, that doesn't mean I can turn around and re-sell my version. It sounds to me like it will be the Jury's job simply to decide who really paid for the initial design of the product in terms of research.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by astrahsburg View Post
    I have to admit, 's' have appears to have done their fair share of bullying in the past, but in this particular instance, it sounds like they may actually have a case. If I read correctly, the design was developed while the 2 were employed by Specialized, and Specialized chose to go with a different design. If the work was in fact done as Specialized states, then it is their design.

    If I code something at work, and my co-worker creates something similar, and the company decides to go the co-workers route instead of mine, that doesn't mean I can turn around and re-sell my version. It sounds to me like it will be the Jury's job simply to decide who really paid for the initial design of the product in terms of research.
    you cant patent geometry - and that's really all that sets this bike apart. Disc brakes not withstanding.
    Stupid, but sometimes witty. Occasionally brilliant. Slow and fat though.

    Specialized sucks dong

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