While tubeless tire technology is nothing new, it only became popular in recent years due to advancements in rim, sealant, and tire design. The origins of the technology in cycling date back to 1999 when Mavic released its UST system. Their design required the tires to hold air without sealant, which in theory required UST certified rims and tires, which were heavier than their non-UST counterparts and more difficult to manufacture.
Around 2004, Stan’s NoTubes released its first tubeless rim, the Olympic. Naturally, these were first used by athletes at the Olympic Games in Athens. Rather than requiring special tires, their system allowed you to set-up any tire tubeless because of the shape of the bead seat. Essentially, they shortened the sidewall of the rim (which had other benefits, like reducing weight, and allowing for lower air pressure) and used a shallower drop channel.
This rim shape became enormously popular and variations of this design are now commonplace, which brings us to the recently concluded litigation between Stan’s and Specialized.
After speaking with representatives from both parties and analyzing legal documents, it becomes evident that eight years ago the team at Stan’s noticed that Specialized had released a new wheelset whose rim bore a striking resemblance to their product. After purchasing a rim and cutting it open, they felt they had enough grounds to file a lawsuit. Specialized then filed a counterclaim, arguing the patent should be invalidated.
In the interim, Specialized went back to the drawing board and redesigned their rim. They released this new version a year after the legal action began, although the original lawsuit continued on, with Specialized and Stan’s trading legal victories until earlier this month when Stan’s original patent was upheld in a Federal Circuit Court.
So why does this matter and what are the potential long term repercussions? For now, it seems like there are none. Representatives from both brands made it clear that they’re not interested in pursuing frivolous lawsuits and that their time is better spent building innovative new products. Had Specialized won, they would not have had to pay Stan’s restitution and the patent would have been invalidated. This would have allowed other manufacturers to capitalize on the technology. That said, it has been eight years since the original lawsuit was filed, and tubeless rim design and tire technology have evolved substantially.