Understanding Motorcycle Patents & Their Implications on the Market


The first gasoline-powered two-wheeled vehicle was patented and produced in 1885 in Germany and was the work of two German engineers, Gottlieb Daimler, and Wilhelm Maybach. 

Over the years, massive improvements have been made to the duo’s invention, resulting in over two centuries of work being modern-day motorcycles. Every new invention or improvement regarding motorcycles is eligible for patenting. 

If you are in the motorcycle industry and are curious about patents and its implication on the market, this guide is an excellent read. 

Understanding Patents

A patent is a legal protection granted to an inventor by the government to allow them exclusive rights to their invention for a limited period. After the expiration of the protection period, the details of the invention are made public, allowing any other person to use them without infringing on the inventor’s rights. 

In the years that patent rights are enforceable, the inventor has a legal right to stop others from using their invention and can sue and recover damages for violations.

Types of Patents Applicable in the Motorcycle Industry

There are three main types of patents; utility design and plant patents. However, in the automotive industry, only utility and design patents apply. 

Utility Patents 

Also known as a patent for an invention, a utility patent is the more widely known type of patent. It covers the functional aspects of an invention or a discovery and is applied to new inventions or a significant improvement in an existing invention. It is applied to various inventions, such as machines, processes, and compositions of matter. 

For an inventor to be granted patent rights by the government, their invention must meet the criteria for legibility, meaning it must be new in the world, non-obvious, and useful. Also, the patent applicant must provide the registering agency with a detailed description of the invention, which it keeps confidential until after the lapse of the protection period, 20 years from applying for registration. 

Since the first motorcycle patent, other utility patents have been granted over the years for significant improvement on the initial invention. Areas where utility patents have been applied for motorcycles include engine and transmissions, suspension and steering, lighting systems, and safety features. 

Design Patents

As the name suggests, design patents focus on an invention’s aesthetic part. In Canada, design patents are referred to as industrial design rights. To qualify for industrial design protection, a design must be new, unique, used on a specific product, and non-functional. However, it is best to talk to an IP expert to help in understanding Canadian patentability and applicable laws. 

Design patents apply for things like the shape of the fuel tank, lights, exhaust system, frame, and the general appearance of the motorcycle. Patent protections last for 15 years from the date of a registration application or ten years from when the certificate of registration is issued. 

The Impact of Patents on the Motorcycle Industry

Inventing or improving existing inventions takes a lot, and it is only possible when inventors are assured that they will profit from their input. So having exclusive rights to inventions and improvement on older inventions has helped encourage innovation since innovators have a 15 -20 year headways allowing them to profit from their innovation which also means more funds to invest into research. 

It also plays a significant role in promoting competition in the industry which is a good thing for the consumer. Every motorcycle manufacturer wants to be the best at what they do, which means improving quality, motorcycle safety, and the overall look and feel of the final products. 

There is also the aspect of establishing brand identity. For example, industrial design rights give manufacturers the right to a design for up to 15 years. The 15 years of design protection coupled with the right marketing strategy is enough to make the design synonymous with a product helping establish a unique brand identity.