Few patents have had such a large impact in the mountain bike industry as the suite of patents colloquially referred to as the Horst Link Patents. The suite of patents consists of US 5,509,679, US 5,678,837, and US 5,899,480, to Horst Leitner. The patents evolved from Horst Leitner’s earlier work with motorcycle suspensions. Horst refined his motorcycle suspension concepts and applied them to mountain bike design. In short, the patents covered a four bar suspension design that decoupled braking and pedaling forces from bump compliance. Initially, the company AMP research, owned by Horst, marketed bicycles employing the four bar suspension design. The AMP bicycles not only included the cutting edge suspension design but also were the first mountain bikes to be offered with hydraulic disk brakes. To someone unacquainted with the evolution of bike design, these features may seem commonplace. However, these designs were offered in an era of bike design when many questionable products were being brought to market such as elastomer suspension systems and cantilevered seats. In short, the original AMP mountain bikes laid the groundwork for modern mountain bike design.
Other companies saw value in the patents and Horst licensed the patents to a handful of established bike manufacturers including Rocky Mountain Bicycles, Turner, Mongoose and Titus Bikes. Ultimately, Specialized Bicycles purchased the patents from Horst.
Horst’s management of these patents underscores the different ways that patents can be used to generate capital for a business, particularly when grouped to establish a patent portfolio. Moreover, the early history of the patents also shows the immense value of pursuing early patent protection for an idea, even if the idea may not be used as a cornerstone technology in a business.
Horst Link Part 2: The Enduro Era