As you may be aware, Wahoo Fitness decided to sue Zwift earlier this fall over Zwift’s introduction of their $499 Zwift Hub smart trainer to the market. Wahoo claims that the Zwift Hub infringes on a number of patents used in Wahoo’s KICKR trainer range. However, Wahoo also simultaneously sued JetBlack, which makes said trainer for Zwift, along with selling their own virtually identical units directly to consumers (the JetBlack Volt).
Wahoo initially filed suit against Zwift/JetBlack on October 3rd, the same date Zwift started shipping the trainers to the US and European markets (Zwift previously announced the Zwift Hub on September 6th, 2022). Zwift currently does not sell the trainers in any other markets except the US and Europe.
Wahoo claims that Zwift & JetBlack infringed on patents from back in 2014. We’ll ignore the fact that this was the only issue the day Zwift decided to start selling a trainer that undercuts Wahoo’s KICKR CORE price by about 50 % underachieved. We’ll also ignore the fact that most other trainers on the market theoretically infringe on what Wahoo believes their patent covers. And finally, we’ll ignore that in the end, having a patent doesn’t really mean much (since it’s often passed out like candy) – but successfully defending a patent is what matters. This is true of any patent, of any company.
Anyway, since then the two separate cases have been plodding through the legal system. However, based on the sheer volume of lawsuits filed in the court systems, it was clear that JetBlack was not really the target (even more clear since JetBlack has been selling this trainer for two years now without issue or response from Wahoo).
And indeed, Wahoo dropped its case against JetBlack:
It is not clear what settlement, if any, took place here. Since JetBlack was never really the target, the ‘settlement’ could range from absolutely nothing but a pinky promise, to a single flat fee, to a per-unit fee for non-Zwift units, etc. .Again, neither party is going to say, but realistically I’d be surprised if there was any significant impact on JetBlack here, either technically or financially. They were never the target, but merely collateral damage.
Meanwhile, back on the main event, Wahoo and Zwift were saving up. Although it’s mostly Wahoo that’s dancing now. After their initial opening salvo, Team Wahoo then fielded more than half a dozen statements, including from local bike shops saying the Zwift Hub would kill their trainer sales. Other statements include very nice technical pictures and dramatic statements. A bit later, Team Wahoo asked for some document sections to be publicly edited (the judge said ‘OK’, which took away from the fun). Most of these sections are financially related. Oh, they then asked for a temporary injunction against Zwift selling the trainer in the US (it doesn’t look like the judge granted it). Statements include from CEO Chip Hawkins and CFO Nathan Fenwick (who joined in September 2022) – snippets below.
Meanwhile, Team Zwift waited until the buzzer on the first round, then asked for another month to have more time to prepare (totally normal). The judge granted it. They then let the clock run out again and filed their opening salvo, which was mostly just a long list of “No, we didn’t do that.” There wasn’t too much interesting in their initial documents.
At this point, it appears that both sides are ready to drag this case out for some time. The legal teams put together and agreed on a schedule for the case that they presented to the judge. That schedule runs through next spring:
Today (December 1, 2022), the judge agreed to the proposed schedule and set a trial date of April 11, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. Of course, this is just a share in the land. The two sides can settle before then, or they can request more time. Or the matter can be dropped altogether and just go get ice cream together, I would suspect Rocky Road.
As for where it ends? Time will tell. However, after reviewing the relevant patents, I am very skeptical that Wahoo’s specific claims and patents will apply here. There is a lot more prior art than most people realize in the space, and most of it actually comes before Wahoo’s trainers. Wahoo undoubtedly opened the floodgates to the indoor smart trainer industry, primarily through open software connectivity on their first KICKR. But there were still plenty of trainer companies doing connected trainer stuff long before Wahoo came along.
I would also say more generally, with Wahoo’s acquisition of RGT, and The Sufferfest, I would be concerned about how much they are exposing themselves to a counter suit from Zwift, around software focused patents that Zwift may have in this arena. After doing some digging about the legal team Zwift hired, this isn’t their first grilling. Of course, this is all against the backdrop of Wahoo apparently has another round of layoffs today.
Ultimately, none of this is good for consumers, and it certainly isn’t good for the smart trainer industry. As I’ve heard from a few companies, this is already having a chilling effect on collaboration between companies, as well as technical standards agreements (which were already at an all-time low). The indoor cycling industry is already feeling the effects of a bubble-bursting moment, with both Zwift and Wahoo experiencing rounds of layoffs this year. Zwift is in a much better position financially than Wahoo to weather the current storm, but conversely, Wahoo is more diversified in terms of products. Even though the bulk of Wahoo’s revenue is based on indoor cycling.
Anyway, I’ll keep you posted if/when more saucy stuff gets published. It’s worth the ten cents per legal page I pay, pretty much like morning snacks for sports tech geeks.
With that, thanks for reading!