Are Team GB cycling towards Olympic patent troubles?

August 05, 2021

Lizzie O’Leary considers the patenting controversy surrounding Team GB’s new track bikes.

The track cycling events at the Olympics have provided plenty of excitement for viewers, from Australia’s dramatic handlebar failure in the men’s team pursuit to repeated broken world records. While Team GB haven’t enjoyed their usual dominance, their newly-unveiled bikes – the HB.T, produced by British Cycling in collaboration with Lotus and Hope Technology - have certainly been eye-catching.

It’s not just fans of British Cycling who have noticed the design of the HB.T. Dutch cycling brand Kú Cycle, founded by Richard McAinsh and Alex Bok, claims that the HB.T infringes a patent filed in 2016 by McAinsh’s company Verve Design, and granted in Europe in February 2021. While McAinsh is yet to comment publicly, Bok has spoken about the apparent similarities between McAinsh’s 2016 design and the HB.T, which was announced in late 2019.

It’s not enough to compare the images of the two designs. While the two bikes might appear similar, that’s no guarantee that any copying has taken place – or that McAinsh would be successful in an infringement action. For there to be direct infringement of a patent, the potentially infringing product has to include all the features set out in the main claim made in the patent. The key feature of McAinsh’s main claim appears to be the joining portion for the front forks, which are all made as a single component.

Bok has also asserted that British Cycling has been unsuccessful at patenting the HB.T because McAinsh’s design was too relevant. This also doesn’t necessarily mean that the HB.T is the same as the previous patent. To be granted in the UK or Europe, the claims made in an application for a patent must be both novel and inventive. Whether a claim is novel is a relatively simple question – its features can’t have been disclosed in a single document anywhere in the world. The question of whether a claim is inventive can be more complex – an applicant must prove that the claimed invention isn’t an obvious step beyond what has already been disclosed. A patent application can be refused for not being inventive even if it’s novel. It’s also worth noting that British Cycling’s patent application doesn’t appear to have been refused or withdrawn and so is still pending at the UK Intellectual Property Office.

British Cycling have stated that they’re confident the HB.T doesn’t infringe any patents. Whichever way the dispute develops, it’s clear that this striking bike will leave its mark on the track cycling world.