Patents are designed to protect new ideas—and allow innovators and inventors to take risks and profit from for their original designs. Ideally, when it comes to fitness, patents should protect manufacturers (large and small alike) from unscrupulous competitors either seeking an unfair marketplace advantage or taking the easy way out of solid R&D.
So how do ‘patent trolls’ (as they’re called) affect the fitness-consuming public? By stagnating technological innovation. Here’s how: Some fitness equipment manufacturers regularly file patents of dubious quality not because they’re innovative, but because they can be used to threaten up-and-coming innovators trying to improve their fitness equipment, even going so far as to bring the smaller companies to court.
When a patent application is submitted, the U.S. Patent Office conducts a search for what’s known as ‘prior art’ – examples of older designs that demonstrate the same innovation. If examples are found, the new idea can’t be patented because it’s not really ‛new’. However, the Patent Office is overwhelmed with applications (more than a half-million were filed in 2010 alone), and many prior searches are perfunctory at best. As a result, certain innovations that might pave the way toward better range-of-motion, or more efficient operation, or more ergonomic design are themselves hijacked by manufacturers with no intention of using them (or whose business model involves charging extraordinary fees for their use).
For you, the fitness enthusiast, the bottom line is this: Don’t shy away from new fitness innovations you see at the gym or at Gym Source. Some manufacturers want you to believe that legacy or long-lived technologies are inherently better—and that’s simply not the case. Newer technologies, whether from fitness industry stalwarts or new fitness industry entrants, can be just as effective—if not even more effective—to give you the results you want to achieve.