Eagle-eyed patent analyst Daniel Bacon of Wheelbased spotted this application from Trek for protection of a box design. With many brands looking carefully at packaging, at first glance you might think ‘so what?’. But as Daniel points out, this box transforms into a mini home work space, complete with floor protection – which is important because Trek traditionally sells through its network of Trek stores and local bike shops.
Could this be a sign that Trek is preparing to sell direct to consumer? Will mail order Treks be a thing of the future? That would certainly be a significant shift for a brand heavily invested in bricks and mortar shops, and whose ‘All In’ commitments includes an expansion of shop presence into new areas.
This may be one of the more important articles I’ve written in a long time. I try not to sensationalize the things I write about and let you, as the reader, make your own decisions. In this case, I cannot stress enough the larger ramifications and implications related to a f**king box. This shows much larger business decisions and directions of one of the largest bike companies in the world. @trekbikes have designed a box that includes a work surface. So, when the consumer receives the bike, they can work on it without the bike touching the ground or getting grease/oil on the ground. If you haven’t figured out where I’m going with this yet, here it is: Trek are considering a direct-to-consumer business model, as this box is explicitly designed to be shipped to the home, not a bike shop. Here’s the line:
“Described herein are methods and systems for packaging bicycles that are to be directly delivered to end users.”
D2C allows manufacturers to lower costs, increase profits, or both. Every hand that touches the bike has to get paid, so reduce the number of hands. I’d like to point out this was filed a few weeks prior to the world shutting down, so don’t think this idea came from the supply issues. Trek were just ahead of the game.
Is this another nail in the coffin for local shops? I feel for them. What can they do? Not much. I fully expect this model to be used by other companies as well, and Trek will probably license this box to others.
Trek saw this post and responded on the WheelBased Instagram:
Here’s some background information that might be helpful. This is a bike box that we have been shipping in China for around three years. We use this box in China so we’re able to provide access to Trek products across a huge region with a smaller retail presence for a market with 1.4 billion people. It’s helped us get our products to remote areas where in some places there is little to no bicycle retail. We’re not currently planning on expanding its use beyond China.
Daniel has followed this up with a second Instragram post, in which he seems somewhat sceptical of Trek’s response:
Trek commented on the last post about the box with an explanation of the background to this idea. In short, they say they’ve been using it for ‘around 3 years’ in China to ‘provide access to Trek products across a huge region’. So, lets think about this.
First, the box pictures are in English. And, this is filed in the US and Europe.
Next, the ‘3 year’ part could invalidate this patent based on the 1-year grace period rule, which would take away exclusive rights and licensing rights. 3 years ago was Oct. ‘18, so filing had to happen before Oct ‘19. This was filed Feb. 27th, ‘20. They’d have to prove it’s use explicitly after Feb. 27th, ‘19. That could be enough to invalidate it, assuming it’s actually in China.
Rule: “If one discloses one’s own work more than 1 year before the filing of the patent application, that person is barred from obtaining a patent.”
They might be able to maintain the US patent based on this rule, but good luck with that.
“A person shall be entitled to a patent unless the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States.”
I don’t see a provisional or foreign priority, so it wasn’t filed in China before the US patent. And it wouldn’t be wise to say the box in China is “similar” – and not the same — due to the ‘obvious variant’ rule. Again, assuming there is a box in China.
So, there are two possible scenarios: If there’s a box in China like they say, the patent may be invalidated by their time-table admission. If it’s not in China and they want to keep this patent, well then you do the math. Lose-Lose. Btw, this isn’t a legal opinion, just observations.
But, I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want to see this taken away from the inventor. And it’s totally possible it is in China, and it won’t come to the US. In that case, the possibility of invalidation is the issue.
Perhaps there’s a half-way house explanation too? If Trek is using this packaging to reach communities in China without stores, perhaps it could be considering something similar in underserved communities in the USA? A pop-up shop/community bike event might fit with its All In commitments… you ship a stack of bikes in boxes to a community hub, they’re built up on site without need for an actual bike shop or specialist skills, and the residents of the community can ride off with their new bike?
While Trek might not currently have plans to use the box outside China, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to protect your design just in case – they say it’s being used to reach remote areas, and there are certainly plenty of those in the USA and Canada – and the north of Scotland too. So, maybe they just don’t want the other consumer direct brands to pinch their box design? It’s pretty nifty.
Thanks to Daniel for the analysis, go give him a follow.
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