The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly About Motorcycle Patents

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

I am really excited about the Suzuki brand right now. Out of the four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, the recession affected Suzuki the most, probably more than many people realize, but the Hamamatsu brand is poised to bring out some exciting machines in the coming few years.

We have already seen Suzuki return to the MotoGP Championship, and the work there has brought about the all-new 2017 Suzuki GSX-R1000 superbike, which is looking to a potent weapon in liter-bike warfare.

By 2019, we expected to see Suzuki debut all-new GSX-R600 and GSX-R750 offerings as well, which should follow the footsteps of their 1,000cc sibling, by offering modern electronics, class-leading performance figures, and cut-throat pricing.

A new Hayabusa is also rumored to be in the works, though scarce details on that machine have us feeling it is more internet rumor than real-world reality. But, Suzuki has not been bashful about teasing a turbocharged sport bike for its lineup, showing us its Recursion concept on more than one occasion.

Could we finally see a turbocharged Suzuki this year though? The rumor mill is pointing to yes…but just pointing, and the reason is because of patents.

Much of this internet rumors stems from a flood of patents that have been found, where Suzuki is patenting technology related to turbo-powered engines in motorcycles, or because of other patents that make reference or inference to being part of a turbocharged motorcycle.

Patents, A Primer

Before I get too far into this story, we need to have a quick talk about patent publications, and how we the media treat them. Far too often, I see certain publications digging up patents, and using them as proof that Manufacturer X is about to release Motorcycle Y.

Let’s be clear, the only thing a patent proves is that a company is trying to protect an idea it has from being copied.

Sometimes, these protections are for products that are about to come to market, and other times these patents are more protectionist, and aim to prevent a competitor from making a certain type of product or from using a particular technology. Either way, a smoking gun a patent is not.

In the United States, the protection a patent provides resides solely in the claims section of the document. While the drawings included in a patent may be illustrative, they are superfluous to the patent itself and how its applied.

That is to say, a company like Honda can get away with using a diagram of its MotoGP bike in a patent, for a piece of technology that will only apply to scooters. To make things even more confusing, sometimes manufacturers use a misleading diagram as part of their patent strategy.

So, when someone flaunts a patent image as proof that a new motorcycle is coming to market, they either have no idea what they are talking about, or they are click-baiting you into reading their story. Sometimes it’s both.

There is also the issue that sometimes patents published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or its European equivalent are really just republications through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agreement between 189 countries that basically amounts to groups of countries recognizing patents from their international partners.

That is to say, sometimes a patent published by the US patent office is really just the re-printing of patent made in Japan, Europe, or elsewhere. Often times, the original patent is much older than the re-published one, which can cause some issues in the space-time continuum.

This is because sometimes patents get republished several years after their initial granting, and when looked at in a new context, they suggest new things that aren’t actually the case.

This is especially true with patents made for racing machines, like MotoGP race bikes, which then surface several years later, supposedly as evidence of a road-going model.

Lastly, sometimes the patents aren’t patents at all…they are patent applications (both patents and applications are searchable in the United States), which can add to the confusion. When I see publications posting a patent application, I again think they are either clueless, lying, or both.

It’s Not All Bad Though

Ok, so that’s a lot of negativity about publishing motorcycle patents, but there is some usefulness into going dumpster diving at the USPTO and similar outlets. This is because you do find interesting insights into what a motorcycle manufacturer is working on, behind its closed doors.

For instance, here’s a patent for a concept made by Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali, which shows an axle with a bushing-styled damper, presumably to do away with chatter or road vibrations.

Will we see such a setup on a future Ducati model? Well, if we haven’t by now, I’d wager not…but it is interesting to see Ducati thinking about such a device – not to mention its cool to see a company’s CEO still tinkering with ideas.

However, take the example of Harley-Davidson’s Project Rushmore. For those who don’t remember, Project Rushmore was the name given to the Bar & Shield brand’s new water-cooled engine design program, which debuted in late-2013 on its Touring lineup.

But before we saw that technology debut (if you can call it that), we saw very illustrative patents of the Project Rushmore engine design, all the way back in mid-2011.

Information leaks do happen from patent applications, but not nearly at the rate that some publications would have us think.

Back to Turbos, And the Recursion

In terms of present-day possibilities, I have been seeing a litany of patents being trotted around suggesting that the new Suzuki Recursion, with its turbocharged middleweight twin-cylinder engine, is about to drop (likely later this year).

Some of the patents look promising, and that Suzuki is clearly working further on this concept, which bodes well for it coming into production. Other patents look like republishing patents from Japan, and are several years older than publications would have us believe.

In terms of what this means for future models, I come back to the beginning of this article. I am genuinely excited to see what Suzuki brings to market in the coming years, finally awake from its slumber through the Great Recession. Every model in the Japanese brand’s lineup is ripe for an update.

A new DR-Z400 could reignite the supermoto market; an updated Hayabusa could give the Kawasaki H2R a run for its money and restart the speed wars amongst the Japanese brands; and a strong GSX-R lineup could mean a renaissance for the sport bike segment.

A sport bike like the Recursion concept could turn the market on its head, and provide a way for Suzuki to differentiate itself from the increasingly bland offerings being made by Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha. That’s a hard opportunity to pass up.

As we are fond of saying here though, time will tell.