Specialized Sues Volagi Cycles, Claims Disc Brake Liscio Rips Off Roubaix

Specialized sues volagi cycles - a visual comparison of the roubaix and liscio road bikes

Specialized Bicycle Components is suing Volagi Cycles‘ founders, alleging they stole the Liscio’s design while still employed at Specialized.

Volagi Cycle’s founders, Robert Choi and Barley Forsman, both used to work at Specialized Bicycles. While they worked in different departments, they became friends and eventually quit Specialized to pursue the American Dream of starting their own company.

In a Mercury News story, Choi and Forsman are quoted as saying their bike has no resemblance to the Roubaix and that Specialized is simply trying to use their high paid lawyers to reduce competition.

Specialized filed the lawsuit last year depicting Choi and Forsman as using their time at Specialized to steal designs and trade secrets, scheming to design a bike that would sell against their Roubaix model, which is described as one of the company’s “most significant sources of revenue.”

The case is set to go to trial by jury within a couple of weeks. Specialized’s requests to have sales of Volagi’s bike halted have not been approved, and now they are seeking monetary damages and ownership of Volagi’s patents.

Comments

Joshua - 01/03/12 - 2:57pm

** Insert thread of uninformed, biased, anti-Specialized comments here **

Adam - 01/03/12 - 3:01pm

Tough to say, they both look a lot like road bikes.

All kidding aside, I have seem the Volagi’s up close and it didn’t jump at me that they were Roubaix copies. This is much more interesting than Specialized more mundane law suits.

silverlining - 01/03/12 - 3:13pm

Apparently specialized is more interested in spending the profits of $12000 bikes on lawyers than good PR. God forbid Volagi tries to sell their bike on Amazon, I can only imagine the strongly worded letter that would generate.

Kovas - 01/03/12 - 3:43pm

Ahh the american dream… to sue somebody.

I just got off the Specialized website, and I didn’t see any Roubaix models spec’d with disc brakes… hmmm.

Work is slow and I was going to apply for a job at McDonald’s, but this makes me think twice… what if they come back and sue me when I try to open a burger stand later on….

MarkB - 01/03/12 - 3:50pm

“uninformed, biased anti-Specialized comments”…. Hmm, sounds like someone doesn’t believe in alternate points of view. Suppose you think the 1st Amendment gives you freedom FROM religion, too….

It’s a basic tenet of patent law that 2 material changes avoids patent infringement, IIRC; since I see ONE MARKED DIFFERENCE in top-tube/chainstay design, and ONE SIGNIFICANT CHANGE in the absence of anti-vibe inserts, I think Spec’s dead in the water here. They WOULD be, were I the judge.

I’m not a Specialized fan, wouldn’t buy one of their bikes; but I can and will acknowledge that they have made significant contributions to the industry and the sport of cycling. But they DO have a predatory reputation about their INTERPRETATION of patent infringement.

T - 01/03/12 - 4:16pm

Be careful what you say on the thread. You could be sued.

Steve M - 01/03/12 - 4:29pm

Interesting set of problems- it’s impossible to have tablula rasa when leaving one company and starting with another. One simply cant either forget or ignore concepts that they consider sound and logical. There is never an elegant cut of the umbilical cord.

Chris - 01/03/12 - 4:44pm

The true irony here is that neither company makes bicycles; they both “design” them. OK, one bike utilizes disc brakes; one does not. The respective forks are visually very different and one is purpose designed for disc brakes. The shapes of the frames are similar but that’s only cosmetic. Unless Spec’ can prove that Velogi mimicked their carbon lay-up or had their ex-employees sign a non-compete agreement, prior to employment, they don’t have a leg to stand on. Regardless, Spec’ suing a competitor selling 150 units is poor form! IMO, Velogi has been wronged. Besides, if someone claimed that a bike I designed looked like a Specialized I’d be pissed!

Brian - 01/03/12 - 4:45pm

Wouldn’t it have cost Specialized less money to bring out a disk-brake equipped Roubaix, rather than calling up their lawyers?

Dan - 01/03/12 - 4:48pm

“now they are seeking monetary damages and ownership of Volagi’s patents”. So if Volagi has it’s own patents, and I’m sure Specialed has it’s own, they aren’t really the same thing. But I guess if ou sue every small pperson then you win

Chunky - 01/03/12 - 4:56pm

Doesn’t the FSR license run out soon? Perhaps they are looking down new avenues to make money and beat up the small guy :)

h2ofuel - 01/03/12 - 5:12pm

I don’t see much resemblance. TT-ST junction is dramatically different, the Volagi has a proprietary seatpost, integrated seatpost clamp, and I don’t even see any vibration-reducing inserts. The only similarities I see are that they both have compact top tubes and both are comfort-oriented. Unless these guys actually “stole” something from Specialized, I don’t see anything wrong there. Hard to make an informed decision without being more in the know.

MissedThePoint - 01/03/12 - 5:21pm

Aren’t lawsuits the reason why many people are afraid to do anything in the US?

So, Specialized was wanting to come out with a similar seat stay design, with disc brakes? I don’t know anything about road bikes really, but that’s all I can tell is going on.

Boniqua - 01/03/12 - 5:22pm

And the award goes to Kovas for the dumbest comment of the thread….

ccolagio - 01/03/12 - 5:49pm

itd be funny if back in the day when steel road bikes were high tech if everyone sued everyone because everyones frame looked the same

i do love specialized bikes, but mannnn do they keep their lawyers busy

Boner - 01/03/12 - 6:00pm

First: Nothing wrong with keeping the lawyers busy. We need to eat and buy enve wheels too.

Second: My guess is that there is likely more going on here than the cosmetic similarities. I would guess that the allegation is something closer to what was suggested above–that proprietary lay-up designs or techniques were used.

Third: Notwithstanding my first two comments, Specialized has been rather aggressive in pursuing small bike/equipment manufacturers. I know of at least two occasions where they have come after very small, local operations for using the name “Epic” and “Stumptown.” I dont think Specialized would have prevailed on either claim if it had been decided on the merits. But neither instances was decided on the merits. They were decided on the basis of intimidation.

Fourth: What comes around goes around.

Beatindownthelittleguy - 01/03/12 - 6:21pm

As someone who works for a Specialized shop, this makes me feel shitty selling their product. A company founded on ripping off others designs and products shouldn’t be allowed to go after pioneering Americans who happen to have a better idea.

ChadQuest - 01/03/12 - 6:48pm

I just posted to the Specialized Facebook this following comment. Lets give them a shitstorm, and make it public enough that they feel embarresed.

“You sure do start a lot of frivolous law suits. I have every belief that your last suit against Volagi has no merit and is simply an effort to take it further in court then what they can afford, to remove them due to personal feelings.

Wonder how much i can sell my Enduro on EBAY for.”

Pete - 01/03/12 - 6:48pm

Wow…..as if I didn’t already have a lame impression of the Specialized brand.

Rich - 01/03/12 - 6:59pm

How many people who commented on this actually work at Specialized and know for a fact that these guys didn’t have access to designs that either are on the books or were scrapped, but still developed by Specialized? Hate on Specialized all you want, but they don’t go around suing everyone just because they make bikes that resemble their bikes. They’re not an evil corporation. They’re a bike company. They love bikes more than most people in this business, and only hire like-minded people. Its obvious when you speak to anyone involved with the company. They eat sleep and breath cycling. And they’re damn good at what they do.

Jdog - 01/03/12 - 7:09pm

Are they suing C-dale for the Synapse?? Giant for the Defy? Trek for the Pilot?? Etc, Etc, Etc.. C’mon.

le renard bleu - 01/03/12 - 7:39pm

i wish they would have stolen some comfort from the roubaix. i had a conversation with choi about his bike a few months ago when he was trying to get a shop i worked for to carry his bikes, and it’s apparent that he is not a fan of specialized at all. i’m glad to see it goes both ways. i rode both of these bikes back to back, and i found the only similarity the terribly named liscio has with any specialized is that it turns in like a tarmac. a liscio is nothing like a roubaix.

Dan - 01/03/12 - 7:40pm

@Rich they (the big S) sued Revelate Designs (http://www.revelatedesigns.com), formally called Epic Designs because they used the named Epic in their name. Now you tell me after looking at that website, what was the point of that? They are just the bullies with the bank roll of the bike world. Make sure you have your wool on for when you get fleeced. I understand you probably work at Specialized or know someone does but look around

burt - 01/03/12 - 7:49pm

I don’t have enough info to really have an opinion on this other than if Specialized is going to win this lawsuit I think they better have overwhelming evidence that the guys from Volagi stole the design of this bike. If not, they’re going to look like big dicks.

Mindless - 01/03/12 - 7:53pm

Since when does Specialized makes disk brake road bikes without gimmicky seatstays and for half the price from the same overseas factories?

Specialized should go pound a rock. Friends do not let friends buy Specialized.

Chuck - 01/03/12 - 8:03pm

They are suing because the Volagi was supposedly designed while Choi and Forsman worked at Specialized, not necessarily for any similarities between it and the Roubaix. If I designed a product now and went to market with it after I leave my current employer, they can sue me. It doesn’t matter if my employer makes TVs and I develop a bulldozer. They probably don’t want anything to do with bulldozers, so they probably won’t sue me, but if I develop a competing TV brand I would expect to be sued!

Mindless - 01/03/12 - 8:26pm

It sure matters. Read up on California employment laws, Chuck.

Jeff - 01/03/12 - 8:31pm

Suing the competition has been a trademark of Specialized. Specialized spent millions trying to take down Scott from selling their bikes in the US. Must be killing Mike Seynard that Scott has grown to what it is now. And looking at the Roubaix, it also looks like a number of Bianchi models as well as the Pinarello Rokh and Traviso to name a few. Just having a bike with a curved top tube barely makes it unique. And one of the new features of Volagi is the disc brake which the Roubaix doesn’t have. If anything the Roubaix is just another vanilla road bike while the Volagi has some new unique and innovative features. Maybe Seynard’s plan is to put disc brakes and bow seat stays on the next Roubaix in hopes that Volagi wouldn’t be around. Specialized should look to the advice of PR firms because this is portraying them as bullies in the industry.

Matt - 01/03/12 - 8:31pm

Most companies make employees sign an Invention Rights agreement. If you invent something while an employee, that company owns what ever it is you invented – you cannot quit and take it with you. If it is a inventions rights breach, Specialized can sue and it should be a slam dunk case as these are usually easy to prove.

I highly doubt it is a “non compete” law suit as mentioned above as non competes are not enforcable in CA.

Jeff - 01/03/12 - 8:47pm

Specialized is the most litigious company in cycling. I own a Volagi and never did I think it had any similarities to a Specialized or I would not have bought it. I totally respect their right to protect intellectual property but I do not see any conflict here. But perhaps they had a prototype on the drawing board before these guys left and then I would say they have a case. Otherwise they should be countersued for a frivolous lawsuit.

Jason - 01/03/12 - 8:48pm

Our bike shop begged Specialized for a disc road bike for years, or at least a disc CX bike… Now they’re suing others for doing what they refused to do. Just another example that they are out of touch with the cycling population and only care to take down their competition.

Mike - 01/03/12 - 9:40pm

This is why I love working for Trek.

Tony - 01/03/12 - 9:56pm

Full suspension patents sometimes are just stupid, but road bike patents… Really?? that’s just retarded. That Volagi looks like a standard Road bike with disc brakes, there is nothing to patent on that bike, nothing at all.

Yeahaaa!!!_ - 01/03/12 - 10:06pm

Thats kinda like the Split Pivot and Treks ABP. They look a like but different.

wigs - 01/03/12 - 10:35pm

Trek is very refreshing, compared to Specialized.

They actually still make bikes, too. Act like a big boy Sinyard. He’s feeling the heat lately.

Brad - 01/03/12 - 11:59pm

This case has nothing to do with design of the frames , this is a clear cut case of Specializing using their power to take out the competition . Anyone remember what Specialized did to Stratos suspension ?
Specialized clearly stole ideas used on Stratos products , patented them then sued Stratos out of business .
This is nothing new for Specialized , they take ideas from smaller builders all the time then integrate these ideas into their complete bike to help kill the competition … Even the small frame builder .
Specialized doesn’t care who you are if you make bikes your competing with them !

dimples - 01/04/12 - 12:12am

Those are clearly not the same bicycles in many ways.

Bertie - 01/04/12 - 4:07am

One of the growing list of reasons why Specialized will never get my money!

ylad - 01/04/12 - 6:15am

There seems to be a fair bit of confusion as to what this case is about, not helped by the tabloid-style photo comparison and headline that introduces the article. As has been stated by Chuck and others, patent infringement is not as clear-cut as people appear to believe, and I’m sure this case is no exception.

It is not always about how something looks.

Designers, engineers, and basically any other employee closely related to product development, when commencing employment at any company, will often have to sign an agreement that covers a few key areas:
- All work produced by that employee in work hours or while on company premisses is the property of their employer, regardless of relevance to current or future products.
- Any attempt to utilise technology, research, data etc developed or collected while at the company cannot be used by the employee privately, during or after employment.

This is not a State or Federal law issue – it is a fact of employment for most designers.

The article does not state any clear detail as to what the case is about, there is no mention of the technology that is being pursued. Needless to say, I have no interest in defending Specialized in particular, but this is a very irresponsibly written article, seemingly deliberately composed to incite a furore. I suppose nobody should be surprised, seeing as the site is called BikeRUMOR.

fangio - 01/04/12 - 6:43am

After reading this, I feel absolutely no sympathy for Sinyard’s appeal to his distributors regarding Amazon. To show great concern that small businesses are being hammered by a big online behemoth and at the same time suing a two-guy start-up.

Shameless.

Matt - 01/04/12 - 9:20am

ylad is right. This isn’t about similarities in the design. It is about whether the design concept of the Volagi (likely the seat stay design) was developed at Specialized but never taken to market. It doesn’t even matter if Choi or Forsman actually worked on that design at Specialized….if it was developed at Specialized then they own it. So it sounds to me like it is up to Specialized to prove that the Volagi design was indeed developed by Specialized and that Choi and Forsman new about it and “stole” it when they left the company.

I’m not a fan of the big bike companies myself. Specialized is even lower on my list now that this lawsuit has come up. It feels to me, like was stated in the Mercury News article mentioned above, that this is more of a “David vs. Goliath” situation. Specialized figured they would pull out their big gun lawyers and Choi and Forsman would blink. I wish the guys at Volagi well and hope they can come out on top in this situation.

KGr - 01/04/12 - 9:36am

Initially I had the impression that this was a trade secret case, in which case, it would be focusing on technologies that Specialized used, not the appearance of the bike, which cannot be a trade secret.

However, Sinyard’s quote below suggests something else:

“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.”

This suggests a violation of design patents or trademark post-sale confusion. The ornamental appearance of the Liscio is not even close to the Roubaix, and it is not likely to confuse either the relevant market or the general public to think they’re seeing a Roubaix.

So if it’s not a trade secret issue, not a design patent issue, and not a trademark issue, what the heck is the basis of the lawsuit? Specialized is either going to have to find proof that Choi and Forsman developed the Liscio on company time. Good luck with that.

boonie - 01/04/12 - 9:44am

@Mike and Wigs….Trek is just as bad as Specialized, if not worse. I’ve seen the people in the factories who build their frames and I wouldn’t let them clean my bathrooms.

Chris - 01/04/12 - 10:45am

Is it sad even though I work at a specialized dealer and can get bikes at cost I am very seriously considering paying full retail on a Giant this spring for my wife’s bike. The shop I used to work for sold Giant and even though they are a big company they were always great to deal with and you never saw drama come from them.

Specialized is turning into the walmart of the bicycle industry trying to strong arm the little guy out of business.

Steve M - 01/04/12 - 11:33am

Probably good journalism to disclose that Zach Overholt is both an editor at BR and a principle at Volagi. I went to the Volagi website after reading the initial post and it’s it certainly front and center.

gringo - 01/04/12 - 11:40am

I wonder then if Specialized should be expecting lawsuits from Maxxis and Schwalbe for ‘stolen or similar’ tire designs brought out in the last two years.

ZachOverholt - 01/04/12 - 12:13pm

Yes Steve, that is entirely true. Which is why since I started working for them I have left any of the writing about them to Tyler or other contributors to prevent any conflict of interest.

Matt - 01/04/12 - 12:42pm

Velonews has an article about this lawsuit too. Has similar tone to BR and Mercury News Story….

http://velonews.competitor.com/2012/01/bikes-and-tech/specialized-sues-volagi-over-liscio-road-bike_201808

plum - 01/04/12 - 1:27pm

ylad is on point. This may very well relate back to technological underpinnings. One might presume that it concerns the discs, given the account of Sinyard’s reaction from the MercuryNews story. He seemed to blow up upon seeing it. There has to be more there than just vague aesthetic similarity.

Dustin - 01/04/12 - 2:20pm

Maybe it should really be Bill Gates doing the suing here. “If” Robert and Barley stole intellectual property.. it was actually Bill Gate’s innovative idea of founding a new company based off a concept that was developed while working for a previous employer. Guess that is an entirely different arguement.

Everyone’s pretending like it’s the bike design (shape) that was stolen. Think maybe more details will come to light as the case goes forth.

Any gamblers out there amongst you? How many people want to bet on wether or not the Roubaix had a disc brake system slated for 2013 release? If so, wonder who was involved in the process of developing those designs?

Internal brake lines?
Seat post and clamp?
Front Fork?
Brake caliper mount?

TheDude - 01/04/12 - 4:43pm

If people start to get away with taking ideas from a company then everyone will start to do it. Specialized is just covering their asses. They have a moral obligation to go after people who illegally steal from them. Specialized probably created dozens of designs for the rear end of the Roubaix; if one of their former employees took one of the early doodles and developed it, Sinyard should be pissed. He has worked extremely hard to get to where he and Specialized are.

Any of you naysayers work hard for something and have it taken away? Sucks doesn’t it?

I love Bikerumor.com but….. Mr. Overholt, it is still a conflict of interest… in my opinion.

ZachOverholt - 01/04/12 - 5:09pm

Just so we’re clear, I’ve disclosed that I work for Volagi well before this point. http://www.bikerumor.com/2011/12/13/midweek-mini-reviews-goods-from-muscle-milk-aeropress-chrome-apparel-hydrapak-pearl-izumi/#comment-85055
I have not posted anything regarding Volagi, or contributed in any way to any of the stories. I also do not hide the fact that I work/have worked for either party.

Mike R - 01/04/12 - 6:46pm

Surely doesn’t look good on either BikeRumor.com or Mr. Overholt. If you are going to make a big deal out of lawsuits then perhaps you should bring attention to all of them, i.e. Yeti v. Santa Cruz.

ylad - 01/04/12 - 7:36pm

I agree with TheDude – this is exactly the point of litigation and protecting your intellectual property. What is the point of intellectual property law if you only utilise it some of the time? It’s the slippery slope that a company sees, that if they let one small group get away with something, then they will be perceived as a company that can be freely stolen from.
To be honest I don’t like it (litigation – I doubt anybody ‘likes’ it), it would be better if people didn’t act dishonestly in the first place; but this is the mechanism that exists to protect the owners of ideas. It doesn’t always work either, but you would be foolish not to protect your own intellectual property. Watch any other successful company that banks on design and see their aggressive protection of IP – Apple, Dyson etc

And Zach, there is a conflict of interest. Regardless of your willingness to be open about it. Even if, in reality, it has not influenced the press at BR in any way whatsoever, the mere fact that you have been employed by both companies is a conflict. It’s unfortunate for you, but denying it won’t give you the appearance of integrity.

moby doug - 01/05/12 - 2:07am

Besides attacking small competitors with prohibitively expensive lawsuits, Specialized employs another predatory competitive practice by forcing bike shops to devote large portions of their floor space to display Specialized bikes…..otherwise they don’t get to sell them at all. This shuts out the display and sale of smaller brands. The big soda pop brands do the same thing.

Jason - 01/05/12 - 8:54am

Specialized – Innovate or keep others from innovating more.

Mindless - 01/05/12 - 5:18pm

For all the Specialized defenders here, yeah, of course it is their right and, maybe, fudiciary duty to protect their IP.

But it is our right, as consumers, to call out their bullcrap and tell our friends not to buy Specialized.

RICAS - 01/05/12 - 8:56pm

I OWNED SEVERAL SPECIALIZED BIKES BEFORE ,BUT AFTER THIS ABSURD LAWSUIT AGAINST A NEW STARTER SMALL COMPANY THAT IS REALLY TRYING TO INNOVATE SOMETHING NEW.THE REAL TRUTH SPECIALIZED WANT IT TO BE THE VERY FIRST MASS PRODUCTION COMPANY TO PRODUCE A ROAD BIKE WITH DISC BRAKES

NL - 01/05/12 - 11:01pm

Another example of Specialized upstanding moral business practices…

http://www.bicycleretailer.com/news/newsDetail/5940.html

JDH - 01/06/12 - 6:20pm

No major manufacturer is offering a bike like Volagi, that’s why they got my attention. Specialized Roubaix is totally different. I rode one in the Etape de Tour de California last year. Nice bike, but I’ll never ride one again. Support small enterprise. Don’t buy Specialized products.

Wild Bill - 01/09/12 - 2:02pm

I like specialized. But I wonder: after first fighting with the UCI, making obnoxious requirements of retailers, virtually eliminating web commerce of their products, and now suing another company under questionable circumstances; do they have any friends left in the cycling industry/sport?

android tablets - 01/25/12 - 11:57am

“now they are seeking monetary damages and ownership of Volagi’s patents”. So if Volagi has it’s own patents, and I’m sure Specialed has it’s own, they aren’t really the same thing. But I guess if ou sue every small pperson then you win

BoredGourd - 04/13/12 - 2:46pm

Specialized needs to rethink this whole lawsuit thing… Much easier to simply BUY the upstart, then claim the technology as their own… *cough, cough* TREK(!) cough, cough*

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