Uh Oh…Specialized Sues Volagi Liscio Over Alleged Stolen Trade Secrets

A lawsuit filed by Specialized Bicycle Components last year alleging that Volagi Bicycles founders, and former Specialized employees, Robert Choi and Barley Forsman used Specialized trade secrets to create the Liscio road bike has gone to court, according to Silicon Valley news site Mercury News.

Photo By Brad Kiminski

Jury selection began Tuesday, and the trial is expected to take two weeks.

The Liscio is a unique disc-brake equipped road bike designed for endurance riding, and is currently Volagi’s only model. It uses a “Longbow Flex Stay,” which attaches the seat stays directly to the top tube rather than the seat tube, adding 5-6mm of vertical flex without compromising torsional stiffness. Choi claims that the design is not an idea that came from Specialized.

The Liscio was debuted at Interbike in 2010. The lawsuit was filed the following month.

Choi and Forsman were in the equipment department at Specialized until April 2010. “I managed their equipment, the bottle business and such. Cages, pumps, computers, tires; completely separated from the bikes. Barney was the primary designer for equipment,” Choi explained during a short break in proceedings on Tuesday.

According to Choi, the genesis of the Liscio concept came while both were working for Specialized but the two didn’t use any of the company’s trade secrets in its development.

“We never thought that it would come to this,” Choi said.

“We really thought we had a better idea, we had a unique idea about a marketplace that they weren’t really serving,” Choi said. “We designed a bike ideally suited for people that want to go out and do centuries and stuff. We thought it wouldn’t be a conflict. We didn’t have any information about their bike business. Nothing.

“They used to poo-poo us for doing these long distance rides and double centuries. We were the weirdos in the office because we didn’t want to go do the 24mph lunch ride.”

According to Choi, Specialized did not name any specific technical aspects of the Liscio design that had been stolen.

Choi and Forsman believe they were completely honest upon their departure, and perhaps that is now acting to their detriment. “We went in open-kimono, gave them all the info they wanted when we left. But they used that and turned it around on us.”

Specialized is now demanding a royalty payment on every Liscio sold, according to Choi.

“At first, they claimed we stole everything. But the preliminary injunction was rejected,” Choi explained. Now, Specialized is claiming that the two men breached their contract, and their confidentiality agreement. “They’re saying we didn’t have rights to design something that would be seen as competitive to Specialized because we had a non-compete clause,” said Choi.

“I worked for Mike Sinyard,” he added. “I had a certain amount of respect for him. They were almost bankrupt 7-8 years ago, and now they’re knocking on Trek’s total sales. I wrote (Sinyard) a heartfelt letter, thanking him. We hoped he would wish us well … he didn’t wish us well.

“He’s saying ‘this is my fucking bike,’ just because the bike is red. They think they own the red color. I’m pretty sure SRAM has a component group called Red.”

“We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this. We spent more money on the lawsuit than the entire gross revenue of the bikes we’ve sold. Our houses are mortgaged. (Specialized) spent a million and a half dollars. For a million and a half dollars they should have bought our company,” Choi said.

When reached for comment, Specialized brand communications manager Ben Delaney said: “Regarding Volagi, I’m afraid we can’t comment about any ongoing arbitration.”

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