Spurcycle made quite a splash with its chic bicycle bell when it launched on Kickstarter three years ago. Less than a year later, though, copies started appearing for sale online. Can you tell which is which?
  • irideredthebike

    You might like to redraft this article to avoid implying that products sourced from Asia can not also be quality products. I was struck by the implicit racism reading through the first time.

    • kasual

      Agreed. This line in particular “not everything had to be sourced from Asia, that quality still mattered” left a bad taste in my mouth. Many high-quality, non disposable items come from Asia, just as many low quality, disposable items are made in the U.S.A. — It’s not a zero-sum game, as this wording would lead you to believe. I’ve had a beautiful, Japanese made CatEye bell on my bike for years, which still produces a beautiful sound, with no apparent signs of failure.

      • James Huang

        Fair enough. I’ll clarify. And for reference, I suppose *I’m* technically “sourced from Asia” myself!

        • kasual

          Otherwise a well-written and thoughtful piece. The whole Rock Bros / Spurcycle thing has been of interest to me for a while. The Spur bell is $75 Canadian at my local LBS, so I was interested to hear more about how the cost is justified.

    • C.Silver

      Same. Asia is a huge area. e.g. top-notch products (and ideas) have come from Japan, an Asian country.

  • ebbe

    Aside from the proposed improvements in wording/implication (see irideredthebike’s comment), which I agree with… Nice and original (sic) investigative work James!

  • jules

    I suspect patents are a waste of time and money. you can’t stop this sort of thing. if you’re buyers don’t appreciate the difference between the 2 bells, then they aren’t really in the market for a $50 bell in the first place.

    the notion of copyright and IP is mostly a western construct. it doesn’t really exist in Asia (flame suit – on). to be honest, I sympathise with the ‘Asian’ philosophy a bit. my favorite example of Asian IP counterfeiting is all the hotels and travel agencies in places like Vietnam that adopt the same name as the original that got good Lonely Planet reviews. you’ve gotta laugh I reckon

    • James Huang

      In many cases, patents for sure provide only a false sense of security, especially considering that even with a patent, it costs quite a bit to defend your IP. In this case, however, Spurcycle could have at least forced Amazon to stop selling the Rock Brothers copy due to patent infringement. Without that distribution channel, there would have been far less confusion in the marketplace.

      • jules

        but people will just source them from elsewhere. I just doubt that someone who is prepared to stump up $50 for a bell is the same person who will think “woah! $16! that’s cheap” that’s not their mindset. it’s the same with Chinarellos. I highly doubt anyone seriously in the market for a Pinarello will buy a Chinarello to save money.

        your article is probably a better defence for Spurcycle than legal measures. people who pay $50 for a bell just want to know it’s quality.

        • funnyperson1

          I think the issue is that being able to sell this stuff on Amazon adds legitimacy and creates the confusion of “oh maybe these are the same thing, why would I pay $50 for that one”. Adding insult to injury they also ripped off the marketing material so customers have an even harder time seeing the difference. Someone doing an Amazon search who is not familiar with the kickstarter may legitimately not know the difference between the made in China bell and the organic free-range brass bell made in San Francisco resulting in actual lost sales. Spurcycle made a huge business mistake by not getting a design patent because right now Rock Bros isn’t doing anything illegal or even out of line with normal business ethics in the west. If you sell something without any IP protection and someone else can make money making it cheaper then that is definitely going to happen.

          I agree with you that the folks buying the knockoffs for $10 off AliExpress know exactly what they are buying, and I honestly wouldn’t count those as lost sales for SpurCycle. As you said, people buy Chinarellos because they can’t afford or can’t justify the cost for the real thing, they’re probably comparing it to an mid-range aluminum Trek and thinking they’re getting better value for money. I say this as someone who own’s one of the AliExpress Spurcycle knockoff. Spurcycle didn’t lose my business at all, a $50 bell was never a serious consideration at this point in my life. I would have bought a $10 shitty plastic/tin bell instead. My doing this might actually benefit Spurcycle because when someone on a $3,000 carbon bike comments on how sweet my bell looks/sounds I tell them yeah this is a knockoff, but you should look at Spurcycle.

        • El Kaiokamele

          I think that’s definitely true, but there’s an entire camp of people buying the rip-offs who wants one that *looks* like the original product just to seem cool– like grocery stores adding little metallic “circles” to the edges of their crappy saddles to emulate the look of a Brooks.

          • jules

            yes, I agree. but why stop them? they’re not costing the original manufacturer any sales. it’s like copying homework when you were back in school. some kids say “how does this hurt me? copy away” and others say “hey that was hard work! you’re not just copying it from me!”

            I’m in the first category. they’re just cheating themselves.

      • Joseph Luttwak

        It is not too hard to stop copycat imports from selling at large retailers like Amazon as you suggested James if you have the IP protection. No need to go to court because it is a customs issue.

    • ebbe

      The “thought behind” patents and the like is that they are needed to protects investments. Without this protection, the thought is, nobody would invest, and we’d have no innovation. The risks would be too high without protection, because the minute you’ve made all you big investments and hit the market, somebody will just copy you, taking away your potential to |earn back” your investments. I understand this thought. Well, I should, because it’s my job to understand this thought ;-)

      Of course, the very concept of crowdsourcing makes (the need for) patents similar to dinosaurs: Extinct. Crowdsourcing is specifically designed to take the majority of your investment risks away: You already know you’re going to sell X amount before you even start production.

      This does not make copy-catting “right”. But getting back to what you said Jules: Patents are not the way forward. Especially for smaller companies, it can (ironically) be too expensive to defend a patent. And from a legal perspective: If you fail to defend, you might end up losing it altogether. The way forward is ultimately to reinvent the whole innovation process (more agile?), marketing message (more personal?), and supply chain (more local?). That’s not done overnight though, but it’s already happening all around us as we speak.

      • jules

        I get the point of patents. But like anything that is based in legal process, it’s designed to create work and wealth for lawyers more than work for the people who hire them.

        Patents have gone too far though. Inventing a new cancer drug with an R&D cost of $Billions is something you need to protect. but where is the novelty in this bell? sure it’s well-built, but what about it is a new invention? the point of patents in most cases is to demonstrate a willingness to take legal action against anyone who markets a similar product to yours. most patents are rubbish and won’t stand up in court, but it’s the threat of being dragged into court that wards competitors off. the whole system is BS and there’s only one real winner.

        • misterhorsey

          “I get the point of patents. But like anything that is based in legal process, it’s designed to create work and wealth for lawyers more than work for the people who hire them.”

          Actually, no, patents are a mechanism whereby the state grants a person or company a limited monopoly to exploit a product for a set period of time to reward them for their investment in research and development leading to the creation of that product. That doesn’t mean all patents are defensible. Certain business process patents are ridiculous. And that’s not to deny the existence of patent trolls. But to suggest that the whole purpose of patent is to line the pockets of the legal profession is fundamentally misunderstanding the purpose of intellectual property rights.

          • jules

            surely you can tell I was being tongue-in-cheek? but in all seriousness, there’s good deeds and good intentions. what I was really saying that while the purpose may be as you described, I’d argue the outcome is more as I described.

            the classic scenario with patent wars is big vs. small company. you can have all the legal principles on your side, but big companies have more money to fund legal actions and they will just bleed you dry. courts have no mercy on you for running out of money. patents don’t work.

            • misterhorsey

              No, not really. It’s the internet. You can’t assume that the reader understands the tone with which you are writing.

              I’d agree that patent law often serves the interests of corporations with big pockets, but realistically, these corporations are the ones that have the resources to actually fund significant research these days. The little person with a genuine innovation can get shafted by a larger company in some circumstances via time wasting litigation, but that’s not necessarily a reason to suggest the entire system doesn’t work.

              I think the fact that RockBros is located in China is a bigger factor in this instance. Even with a patent in place, what would be the expense of pursuing legal action and would the copy cat company have the resources to pay any damages anyhow?

              Of course patent law is only one mechanism available. If you are able to keep your design, chemical composition, pr recipe secret – and it can’t be reverse engineered, don’t patent it. Keep it a secret and your monopoly runs forever.

              But counterfeiting this is flipside of the global outsourcing of consumer and industrial manufacturing to China, and the absence of the rule of law in China. You can’t expect Chinese factories to manufacture so many shipping container loads of consumer items without create massive spare industrial capacity, and then that spare capacity being used to make counterfeit products or at the very least, cheaply made versions of popular products that look the part but have poor QC. It’s a shame. So much wasted energy.

              • jules

                I agree the larger issue here is perhaps that the counterfeiting company is Chinese. As I understand it, it’s not even a breach of IP in China to do what they’re doing. We’re basically telling them “these are your laws, even if yours are different – please abide by them”. Now that’s reasonable when they are doing business in ‘our’ countries, under our laws, but the global marketplace (Alibaba, etc.) makes this a much grey-er area than we’d prefer – in practice, if not in principle and law.

                • misterhorsey

                  It’s potentially not a breach of any IP in any jurisdiction to make a fancy $50 bell for $16 or less in ANY country, if there has been no patent or design registration to protect it. China does have extensive laws regulating intellectual property. From my brief experience, the administration of registering copyright protection in China is far more onerous than in Australia where copyright comes into being upon the creation of a work, as an example. However, my view is that from a practical point of view, the laws in China may state one thing, but the culture of enforcement and compliance is not there.

                  It’s not just Chinese factories that disregard intellectual property of course. YouTube was built on unauthorised reproduction of copyright material and it could be argued that consumers are better for it….

                  This is a great podcast about patents and patent trolls in the body building supplement industry.


        • ebbe

          BTW, there’s really not that much novelty in most drugs either ;-)

    • Gavin Adkins

      I work in this area so I have vested interest in defending IP rights ;-) I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but it’s a necessary business consideration, if you just ignore it and your product does well (which is the goal), then you’re likely to get burnt down the line.

      There has been significant improvement in terms of enforcement and respect for IP rights in China in the last 5 years or so. Other Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea have some of the busiest patent offices in the world. If they had have filed for patent or design protection, I doubt there would be any significant volume of copies on the market.

      That being said, the points you make below about the price differential and this article being more effective at limiting losses now that the horse has bolted are spot on.

    • David9482

      Copyright and IP protection absolutely does work.

      I feel terrible for the Spurcycle guys, it’s really attractive to use Kickstarter and other “alternative” sources to start a business, but it is still up to the original inventors to protect themselves. It’s a classic situation. Look, the initial production run of Spurcycle bells earned $280,000 in revenue, it was completely worth it to spend $2,000 prior to that on legal fees to register a patent. And from the $280,000 in revenue you can prevent future copycats. Spurcycles’ owners worked hard to create something, it’s a shame to see copycats take away their earning potential.

  • Michael Burleigh

    You still have a year from public disclosure to file a patent in the US. If it’s been less than a year they, should file a patent. Probably a design patent.

    • James Huang

      According to Spurcycle founders Nick and Clint Slone, they were told by their attorney that the patent laws had changed just before their Kickstarter campaign. They were under that same impression, but the law supposedly was updated to say that the paperwork had to be filed before the item was released for sale.

      • Michael Burleigh

        Incorrect. I am a licensed, practicing patent attorney and I can tell you that US patent law still allows a 1 year grace period in most cases. See link for the legalese specifics: https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/s2152.html

        • James Huang

          Sounds like the Slones need to find themselves a new patent attorney then. Sadly, the one-year grace period has long expired.

          • H.E. Pennypacker

            I don’t know if it applies in the patent context (Michael Burleigh can probably enlighten us there), but in commercial litigation there’s something called the “advice of counsel” defense, which can, under rare circumstances, provide relief for parties who let certain time periods expire (usually statutes of limitations) based on improper advice from their counsel on which they reasonable relied to their detriment. Might be worth considering.

      • H.E. Pennypacker

        If that’s true (and I have my doubts–though I’m a litigator, not a patent attorney), then a creative lawyer would have filed the paperwork and argued immediately after the Kickstarter runs went out that the “before the item was released for sale” rule didn’t apply here because the Kickstarter runs were not offered “for sale.” They were offered as a promised dividend/return-on-investment to microfinancers investing their venture capital in the company. Because that’s what Kickstarter does–it doesn’t sell anything.

        • Mike

          “In general, an offer which the other party could make into a binding contract by simple acceptance constitutes an offer under §102(b). Group One, Ltd. v. Hallmark Cards, Inc., 254 F.3d 1041, 1048 (Fed. Cir. 2001).” From https://www.fenwick.com/publications/Pages/Statutory_Bars_Patent_Rights.pdf

          Section 102(b) is the section of the patent act that governs novelty. I think a Kickstarter campaign would constitute a binding contract to sell, or the campaigns would be fairly worthless. But I could be wrong?

          • H.E. Pennypacker

            Of course, but if you’re their attorney then your job is to advocate for them. And if you’re a good attorney, then your job is to advocate creatively when things seem simple, clear cut, or disadvantageous on the surface. That’s what they pay you for–to be a “can do” lawyer. There is a creative, and well reasoned, argument here that funding a kickstarter project does not constitute a sale of goods. I’d happily make that argument to a court and, frankly, I think I could win it under the right circumstances.

            • Mike

              Your first job as an attorney is to provide advice of counsel, not jump straight to advocating for them. You would have to tell them that, on balance, the law does not favor their position. The “mere” offer to sell starts the one year clock running.

              Then, you would have to file for the patent. You would not be representing them in court, but before the U.S. Patent Office. You would need to disclose your Kickstarter campaign or risk being held to have committed fraud on the Patent Office. Once you told the Patent Examiner the facts, they would reject your application. No matter how creative your arguments are, they would reject it. The Examiner would very likely take the attitude that this is, in the light most favorable to applicant, a highly unsettled position. So if you don’t like their rejection, you can appeal. Once before the Patent Board, they would likely agree with the Examiner unless you have clear case law to support your position. It is only then that you could get into a court.

              So let’s say that you get the patent to issue… If you ever got into litigation on the patent, then they would mercilessly attack your offer for sale and assert that the patent is invalid. So you would spend enormous sums of money just trying to overcome the issue of the on-sale bar. And you would have a patent with a terrible black mark against it.

          • hornk

            definitely wrong. “Kickstarter is not a store” is one of their first principles. And there’s no obligation to deliver, the only penalty is shame. People fail to deliver all the time. Sometimes they give refunds, sometimes they give apologies, other times they just disappear with your money.

            So I think you could at least make a pretty solid case that kickstarter is not “offering for sale”

            • Dave

              “Kickstarter is not a store” is only their attempt to head off attempts to hold them accountable under consumer rights legislation.

              In most jurisdictions, that disclaimer would be absolutely worthless. The act of selling something is what matters there, not the pseudo-legal waffle they use to describe it.

            • Mike

              Kickstarter’s Terms of Use provides:

              “Kickstarter provides a funding platform for creative projects. When a creator posts a project on Kickstarter, they’re inviting other people to form a contract with them. Anyone who backs a project is accepting the creator’s offer, and forming that contract.

              Kickstarter is not a part of this contract — the contract is a direct legal agreement between creators and their backers.”

              See: https://www.kickstarter.com/terms-of-use at Item “4. How Projects Work”

              Whether they are, or are not, a “store” is not dispositive on the issue of whether there was an offer within the meaning of Section 102(b) of the Patent Laws. Based upon the excerpt above, it is clear that Kickstarter views the transaction as a contract with an offer, and cautions their users as such. While this would not be binding on a court, it would create a very significant hurdle to overcome if your were to try to argue that there was no “offer”.

              In addition, others have looked at the issue of whether Kickstarter creates a contract between the parties and concluded that these projects do likely create a contract, including the necessary element for a contract of an “offer”. For example, see the article entitled “Kickstart My Lawsuit: Fraud and Justice in Rewards-Based Crowdfunding” from the University of California, Davis Law Review at http://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/49/1/Note/49-1_Moores.pdf

              One key point made in that article states: “This analysis ultimately finds that all parties in successfully funded Kickstarter campaigns (project creator and backers) generally intend to create a contract, and that a contract is likely formed between the parties. However, that contract is hard to enforce because of the disparity between the high cost of initiating a lawsuit and the reality that most backers have only pledged a nominal amount to the project.”

              So, contrary to your assertion, any attempt to argue that there is no “offer” with a Kickstarter project would be an extremely weak position to take, and would be unlikely to succeed.

              • hornk

                Interesting. I had understood it differently that this was more intended as a speculative donation with a potential reward rather than a contract to produce goods. But I guess that article is pretty definitive. Thanks for the info.

    • Mike

      Not disagreeing, just clarifying… If they were told they had six months to file, then they were likely talking with their attorney about a design patent. In that case you only have 6 months from offer of sale to file. With a utility patent you have 1 year (in the U.S.) from the first offer for sale. In other parts of the world (pretty much everywhere) the offer for sale creates a bar at the time of the offer.

      Design patents, which protect the ornamental appearance of a functional item, are less common than utility patents, which protect the way an article works. Generally speaking, my opinion is that design patents have less value than utility patents. But that is a very general statement.

      In looking at the bell, it is not apparent how much of the bell is “ornamental”. It largely appears functional, which would lend itself to filing a utility patent, assuming the bell is both novel and non-obvious.

  • Michael Burleigh

    Also, there’s no time limit on registering those trademarks. They should register all their trademarks. I know a great IP attorney ?

    • George Darroch

      I hope that they take that action, if it’s at least cost-neutral for them.

    • Mike

      Again, I agree with your point. They probably could avoid a lot of their problems if they leaned heavily on trademarks. A strong marketing campaign tied to their brand (SPURCYCLE) could help them avoid some of the problems of knock-offs (i.e. by clearly distinguishing THEIR product from competitors). Others should not be able to trade on the goodwill created by a superior product, and tying that product to SPURCYCLE as the source of the bell should help.

      It does appear that they recently had a TM issue for SPURCYCLE.

  • H.E. Pennypacker

    I was surprised to see an article like this here, clearly taking sides between open competitors in the marketplace (not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, I was just surprised). But after reading I found it very interesting and informative and thought it a worthwhile use of Cyclingtips time and resources. Well done.

    In the end, though, it all comes down to this: “The Slones never filed . . . paperwork to protect their intellectual property.” As much as it sucks, and I feel for them, they have no grounds to complain as far as I’m concerned (aside from complaining about their own missteps). They could have done a lot to prevent this (not just patent, but trademark and copyright), and they didn’t. They could have retained competent intellectual property counsel right out of the gate (for minimal cost) to advise them of the law and any forthcoming changes, and it doesn’t appear that they did. They could have stayed abreast of legal developments impacting their field on their own but they didn’t. They could have called the patent office to check in and make sure they were still okay every month or so (I know people who do this, it’s not uncommon since patent law and regulations can be so dymanic).

    Because of all that, even though it sounds plenty harsh, I have to say they brought this on themselves and hope they learn a very valuable lesson going forward. All that said, I commend them for taking the “out-invent” approach going forward (love that attitude), and I will be choosing to buy one of their bells rather than their competition. Good luck going forward Spurcycle!

    • James Huang

      For the record, the Slones aren’t blaming anyone, and I came up with the idea for this article myself when I discovered the Rock Brothers copy. They’re obviously unhappy about the situation but fully acknowledge that they made mistakes in the process. In all of my communication with them for this article, they never came across as bitter or angry, and they’ve definitely learned from the experience. In my opinion, they’ve certainly handled it with far more poise than I would have.

      • H.E. Pennypacker

        That speaks highly of them. I’m glad to hear it. As much as it was their own “fault” (for lack of a better term), this would still be extremely difficult to take and move past. The fact that they’ve clearly resolved to do that show’s a great deal of fortitude and resilience.

  • Cameron Fraser

    Wishing the Spurcycle guys all the best in this. My wife gave me one for Christmas. My aversion to putting much of anything on my bike meant that I didn’t install the bell until about a month ago. Not sure what I was thinking…it’s beautiful, elegant, looks great on the bike, and works very well.

    And what do you suppose is a “Wintage townie” anyway?

  • Alex Hillis

    I own both a Spurcycle bell from the Kickstarter and the copy cat shown here. Totally support the judgment on quality, there’s no comparison. After hitting the copycat bell 3 times, the hammer comes out and the bell doesn’t ring. I have to push the hammer back into the bell to make it useful again. Won’t be buying another one, it’s a waste of money even at the bargain price.

    • Demand a refund. Make these ripoff artists pay for their deeds.

  • Dude pedalling

    A spurcycle bell is a truly beautiful thing. Lovely to look at, tactile to the touch and it works.

  • Augsburg57

    One of the lessons here is that some cyclists are willing to pay for premium quality. Others will buy any bargain and throw it away after it fails with little use.

    My wife bought the Spurcycles and I bought the Crane – both the Crane E-Ne and the Crane Suzu. The Cranes are less expensive than the Spurcycles, but have very good quality and a better sound. We like both, but I prefer the Crane E-Ne over the Spurcycles due to a louder, clearer bell tone. The best by far is the Crane Suzu, but it is only sized to fit older, smaller diameter handlebars. My wife likes her Spurcycles best.

    Any bell is better than trying to yell at pedestrians, which never works well. Not sure if your article meant to imply the E-Ne is a clone of the Spurcycles, although it is certainly plenty different. The Rock Bros. is an obvious copy, as you illustrate, and the Amazon reviews kept me away from that one.

  • Ron Heath

    Don’t have a Spurcycle but do have a Rock Brothers and two Crane ( a brass and an alloy version) bells. The Crane bells are much better quality and the ring tones are quite lovely and loud with long sustain(particularly the alloy one). Much better bell for around double the cost of the Rock Brothers but still a lot cheaper than the Spurcycle. Only negative is that the bell dome on the Crane bell is a little larger.

    • James Huang

      Yes, aside from being a little bummed that Crane seemingly emulated some of the Spurcycle’s design elements, the Slones actually had quite a lot of respect for the Crane folks. Again, they’re handling the situation with far more grace than I would have.

  • Alex

    If you buy the RockBrothers one you are getting ripped off, not because it’s a copycat, but because you can get one from AliExpress for < $10.

  • Nitro

    Anyone know of an Australian distributor / stockist (For the genuine article) ?

    Have done a quick hunt around, but cant seem to find anyone, though I do see that they are available online from what seems to be the manufacturer directly (if they ship to AU)

    My mountain bike has a bell, but given that that’s mainly used on bike paths with the kids, that’s entirely appropriate – but I have to admit – this is the first bell I’ve seen that I’d actually be willing to add to the handlebars of the road bike

    • sumorider

      They have a list on their site. Includes Australia:

      • Nitro

        Thanks… Clearly my web exploration skills left me this morning.

        You have to admit, A$90 for a bell (if you want the black one) is pushing it – even for a high quality product that this clearly is …

        I may need to start drafting my “I’ve been good this year” letter to Santa a little earlier than normal – I fear it may take a few iterations for me to build the business case…

        • Wily_Quixote

          have you thought about the australian company Knog and their bell the Oi?

          I believe it is out of stock at the moment but is allegedly just as boutique as the spurcycle. And from 30 bucks…


      • Jim

        So when does the cyclingtips shop start stocking them ?

  • sumorider

    The positive is that the cheaper copy actually helps solidify the position of the Spurcycle brand and it’s value.

  • David Simons

    “Ideally, we want to have a bell that’s $35″… Which is still expensive for a bell, maybe they were being greedy at $50. I prefer Asian technology to American, and so do many Americans judging by how many Hondas, Totyotas, Nissans they buy. Oh, and where is that darling of the U.S. consumerism society the iphone manufactured? Asia? There seems to be a flaw in their thinking, the author too.

    • This is not “Asian technology” by any stretch. It is an imitation made cheaper by lax labor and environmental laws, subsidized by oil wars to ship it to you overseas.

  • Andy B

    I don’t even want a bell on my bike.. 50 squids for one is a bit much bra

  • George Darroch

    There are still a lot of legal avenues that Spurcycle could use to hinder their rip-off copycats. I hope that they take some of them, even if they’re cost-neutral.

    There’s always a market for quality, and it takes entrepreneurs to find out how large that is. Let’s hope that they’re able to maintain and improve their quality in the next one, while reducing their costs a little.

    And after reading this, I’m tempted to buy one. Meantime, I’m off to Amazon to downvote the other one.

  • TheBeardling

    Sounds a little like what my company (SeaSucker bike racks) is going through, albeit to a smaller extent. We’re finding Chinese copies of our racks. Ours are made in the USA, which is a great selling point worldwide for us, but the knockoffs are both cheap and cheaper. Sucks to have someone just copy your product after putting so much heart into it.

    Oh, and I have 2 Spurcycle bells. Love those things.

    • jules

      I can easily empathise with you. But I’d still ask – what are you really selling? If I’m buying a bike rack, I’m buying a means of attaching my bike to my car in a way that won’t leave the bike damaged and is practical to use. I’m not buying a product that looks like another product that does that well. If your competitors are of inferior quality, then they aren’t copying you – at least not in the area that counts. The problem is really when they manufacture a product that is of similar quality. Are you being ripped off? Don’t take it personally, but is the idea of using suction cups to attach a rack to a car really novel? Maybe you were the first to apply the technology that way, but I don’t know that makes it truly novel.

  • Mike

    “To make matters worse, when Amazon shoppers searched for “Spurcycle”, the online retailer’s search engine returned the Rock Brothers knock-off first. The real thing comes up second…”

    I know that there are, or were, legal issues with using another manufacturer’s trademark (e.g. SPUR CYCLE) as meta-tags in webpages. I am a little rusty here, but the issue is that a person seeking a source of goods by name (i.e. SPURCYCLE) should not be fooled into thinking another bell is a SPURCYCLE due to issues such as placement when they are returned in a search. Similar restrictions may apply on Amazon. They should talk to Amazon, and possibly an attorney.

    “Rock Brothers has even ‘borrowed’ the packaging design from Spurcycle.” Their is something called “trade dress” which protects items such as packaging. That may be an issue here. Again, they should consult with an attorney. It certainly looks like Rock Brothers was copying their packaging design. To me (as an IP attorney), this may be the most egregious aspect of the matter. If I saw these two items on a shelf, I might easily mistake one for the other.

    • Pedant

      Mike, you might add that registration before the patent office (USPTO) is not a prerequisite for trade dress protection. But would trade dress apply to the packaging? It merely depicts the product, and therefore it is functional. But IP protection doesn’t come cheap and Spurcycle may be going up against Amazon, which has deep pockets. Further, IP rights are local: what’s protected in the US is not automatically protected in Australia or elsewhere.

      • Mike

        Yes, as you say, trade dress protection does not require registration. And trade dress definitely applies to packaging for a product. The protection would be applied based upon the packaging as a whole, not individual elements of the packaging.

        There are a few photos showing the packaging of the product in the article. I think, when the packaging is viewed as a whole, they are confusingly similar. Just my opinion… So for example, the boxes are the same size and color. They both depict a stylized image of the bell on the front, using the same angle of the bell and size of the image. They have the same cog design on the back. They have nearly identical wording on the back. The product is arranged on the inside of the packaging in nearly the same manner. So, I don’t think any one of these things alone would be sufficient to find a violation, but, when taken together, they might be sufficient. In particular, a potential consumer, when seeing the Rock Bros bell on a shelf, might mistakenly believe they were purchasing a SPURCYCLE bell. Moreover, based upon the similarities in the packaging, it appears to me that Rock Bros was trying to trade on the goodwill of SPURCYCLE. But, again, that is just my opinion, and I could be wrong.

        With regard to Amazon, if I recall, they have “take down” procedures where you can request that other products violating your IP rights are removed from their site. The amount of revenue from the bell is likely insignificant to Amazon, and they would likely gladly work with you so long as you comply with their requirements. It is not worth the hassle to them to deal with thousands of these small suits, especially when their revenue from a product is small. So SPURCYCLE is not necessarily going up against Amazon.

  • Bartholomew Lee

    I doubt there would be many people buying the $16 imitation that would have bought the $50 original if there was no imitation. Also, a title with counterfeiter in it that’s a lot about Rock Brothers – if they haven’t done anything illegal – seems legally risky to me. Counterfeiting involves dishonesty and fraud. Imitator might be a better term if there’s no illegality happening. Also, patents aren’t just to protect the patent owner. You can’t patent an invention you exploit secretly – you have a choice to disclose the workings and get a patent, or use it secretly but risk no legal patent protection if others discover the secret. Patent law exists to balance allowing the inventor a financial reward on their investment with the advantages to everyone from the technology being made public so others can build on it to take it to the next level. The best patent laws will make technology generally advance faster. Having said all that, this article was great and it’s a very effective way for Spurcycle to make differentiate their product from imitators.

  • Matthew McArdle

    I’ve got a spurcycle bell on two of my bikes, and I’ve bought them for friends as well. Awesome bells and worth every cent.

    I think they’ll be fine. People who buy cheap crap are always going to buy cheap crap, they were never going to buy a $50 bell.

    • slclick

      A yell and a whistle are free. My $50 can go towards better things. FWIW I have a RB bell and it’s fine. In fact I never heard of the Spurcycle bell when I bought mine. These boutique sellers aren’t always the best marketers. I cannot be held responsible for being part of the problem when the original hasn’t gotten their name out properly.

  • Jim_Feeley

    James, good story; thanks for writing it. One thing: did you contact Rock Brothers to get their side of the story? I have no idea what they’d say or if they’d even reply. But seems like that would be a good thing to do, journalistically speaking.

    (I read the story and scanned the comments….sorry if I missed a bit where you address this.)

    • James Huang

      Yep! It’s in the boxed-out note at the bottom of the article. I contacted Rock Brothers through its web site (since I couldn’t find any other means of getting in touch) but never heard back. I would have loved to hear their side of the story.

      • Jim_Feeley

        Ah. I see it now. I totally missed it. The old magazine editor in me suggests maybe also sticking that line somewhere in the main body of your story. Maybe towards the end of the Enter Rock Brothers section.

        There’s an email address that –might– be connected to the company here:

        Good luck and thanks again for this story.

  • David Williams

    Speaking of Chinese copies. Anyone seen the fake MAAP kits on AliExpress?

    Disappointing to see some Chinese crowd ripping off a small company/startup.

  • VK

    Well.. they don’t seem to be practicing what they preach too. Their bidon looks very similar to Fyxo’s.

  • Clifford Wong

    Great article ! I got my Spurcycle bell during their crowdfunding stage and love it and I am sad to hear they have been copied. Unfortunately with a lot of Kickstarter campaigns people don’t realize the problem with China. They will copy you if you have or don’t have a patent. Having a patent only works in making the retailers think twice before they want to carry a product with patent infringement issues. When I bought a Spurcycle Bell – I bought into the dedication of the people who designed and created the product. That why I was willing to pay $80 for 2 bells. And with Rock Bros – which is based in Yiwu, China, its just taking advantage of someone design and dedication.

  • Robert Ward

    Feel for the Spurcycle guys as we (Quad Lock) deal with the same thing on a daly basis, from copied products, copied websites, repurposed video content and even copied marketing material and slogans. At the end of the day we need to believe that there are still customers that care about quality and innovation. Grow that community, make the best products matched with the best service and let the imitators play their own game.

    • George Darroch

      You probably have it much worse, given how many companies are in the phone case market, and how little regard intellectual property is given there.

      But as you say, if your product is better, then that will shine through. I wouldn’t want to perch my iPhone on a case of unknown quality…

  • Roger That

    Then there’s the soon to be released Knog Oi Bell, also funded via Kickstarter. Best design of the lot for me. ‘Strayan too, from Richmond in fact. I hope they have sorted out their IP. https://www.knog.com.au/oi-bike-bell.html

    • Black Frog

      While the Oi has yet to ship, you can buy the “copy” already on AliExpress ;) AND the Oi itself may be a ripoff of a great european design from a couple of years back.

  • Valiant Abello

    “The Slones never filed patent paperwork to protect their intellectual property.”
    I cant say enough about the naivete behind this decision.
    I dont condone what Rock Brothers did, and I would never buy any of their products, but you have to patent your products. Have to.

  • David9482

    Great article, thanks for bringing this to my attention. I really hope the Spurcycle creators can continue to find success.

  • tylernol

    patenting the bell would not have slowed counterfeiters down much. They just change their name faster that authorities can react. It has become an enormous problem on Amazon: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/08/amazons-chinese-counterfeit-problem-is-getting-worse.html

  • Same as it ever was. Look at a 1973 Shimano Dura Ace catalog for example. Originality is rare, copycats are not. All one can do is fall back on the old “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and move on. Patents and trademarks are pretty much worthless when competing with China.

  • Do you think it’s possible the Chinese read Nick & Clint’s last name as “Stone” instead of Slone, and therefore named their company “Rock Brothers”? That would be the ultimate indignity.

    • James Huang

      No, I don’t think so. Rock Brothers sells quite a wide range of bike products under that brand name, not just bells. In fact, the bell isn’t even listed on its web site.

  • Doogie Lama

    C’mon now…it’s a bell that costs $50. I’ve used the same $11 bell for 3 years and when I ding it, people hear and people move. Good for these guys for building the best bike bell ever, but I would guess most people just want something that goes ding.

  • Black Frog

    Is a ripoff available before the “original” still a ripoff? Having missed the kickstarter for the Knog Oi, I searched for a similar design and found “invisible” bike bells already shipping on Ali Express. I’m agnostic whether the Oi is an original design as the Oxelo Town 9 kick scooter has been shipping with a nighdentical OEM wraparound bell for about two years.

  • Simon Gamble

    A work colleague bought me the Rock bros version. It is an absolute piece of sh&$. It didn’t even last one ride. Didn’t attach properly. Didn’t ring. And the hammer metal is so weak it no longer springs.

  • slclick

    I purchased the Rock Brothers bell not even knowing there was an original. I has worked fantastically for 4 months unlike these reviews on Amazon. Would I have bought the real deal had I known about the original, I couldn’t say. After all, the Spurcycle is a boutique item and it hasn’t generated much press or buzz….I can’t be the only one.


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