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Did Strava copy its mobile route builder from another app? (cyclingtips.com)
164 points by docdeek 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

Creator of Footpath (http://footpathapp.com) here.

The main point I wanted to reiterate in all of this is not so much that Strava copied Footpath. The issue as I see it is that Strava is being misleading in saying they came up with an idea themselves and can innovate quickly, when in fact the data shows otherwise.

> [Strava] came up with the idea for the mobile version in December, during one of the Strava Jam innovation retreats held each quarter. Company officials loved the idea and fast-tracked the project; Route Builder For Mobile rocketed from concept to public beta test in only two months. - Bicycling.com

> Still, I think this is the best new feature we’ve seen from Strava in years. Admittedly, it’s about the only new non-security/rebranding feature we’ve seen from Strava in years – so the bar is kinda low. If comments on past posts are any indication – people are waiting for not just one new Strava feature, but a dozen of these. Hopefully this being merely February, we’ll see many more of these types of creative and useful features added to the platform over the course of 2019. - DCRainmaker.com

Hi Footpath creator. I'm a runner and happy user of your app for many years. I just wanted to say thank you. Regardless of what Strava does, I'll continue to support your app.

Edit: putting my money where my mouth is, I just realized I’ve had a lifetime membership purchased in Oct 2014 but that doesn’t help you any going forward, so I just purchased the yearly elite subscription. I hope you’re able to continue to develop the app.

Thanks! I really appreciate the support.

FYI: the press kit link on your website is dead (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/apent333tlqd141/AABfqlO4ONXmp3z6h...)

Ditto for me

This is pretty much standard in the industry, isn't it?

Nobody implements a feature from a competitor and says "hey, we copied this from X".

Look at Android & iOS, with an eternal back-and-forth copying (notifications from Android->iOS, permissions from iOS->Android, etc.)

And coming up with the idea doesn't have to mean inventing the idea, it can simply be "why don't we implement this cool feature that someone else is using?".

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Surprisingly enough, when Instagram copied Snapchat's stories feature, they credited Snapchat.


But there's a difference between merely copying an idea, and copying it and also publicly claiming you came up with it.

They literally claim to have come up with it on their own. It's the first sentence in the quote.

We accept too much PR bullshit origin stories. If you find yourself coming up with a cutesy, exaggerated narrative of how a feature began, don't.

I cannot find it in me to give a shit about glossy origin stories and I doubt most devs care.

It is really shitty that there is no credit or attribution whatsoever, and I understand how you feel. Some UX designer / product designer at Strava copied your idea and claimed it as their own.

There's a difference between spending days or weeks researching competitors and formulating your own composite of something and what happened here.

Strava doesn't really have any legal risk by just admitting that they copied you. The evidence is there. It's just managers and their design subordinates wanting to save face.

> It is really shitty that there is no credit or attribution whatsoever

As pointed out on Twitter, the Footpath app isn't complying with the attribution guidelines for the OpenStreetMap data that it uses:


OSM requests that "for a browsable electronic map, the credit should appear in the corner of the map". Footpath doesn't do this. It hides it away on a credits page.

Using the volunteer work of thousands of mappers, then refusing to comply with their stated attribution request, is really low. I had a lot of sympathy with Footpath before I realised this.

This is shitty, and if your post is true, I hope Footpath's owner addresses it, since they are (or were) actively participating in this discussion.

If you click through to the Twitter thread, there is a very active discussion and there still seems to be a lot of disagreement within the OpenStreetMap community on the topic of attribution, particularly on mobile.

Footpath uses the Mapbox SDK under the hood, and I was following Mapbox's documentation on attribution when I integrated the SDK.

I'm following the conversation, and plan to update the attribution once some consensus arises from the discussion.

Most of the "disagreement" is from Mapbox.

I don’t really see the reason to credit here. As a product developer you obviously draw inspiration from your competition, and do whatever you need to keep up and hopefully get ahead. This is in my opinion exactly the same as Instagram implementing stories from Snapchat. Doing so is perfectly fine, entirely legal, and in this sense being a gentleman and not implementing the feature will cause you to be set back compared to the competition.

Why are you bringing up the question of if it's illegal or not when no one else is? There's no dispute as to whether or not it's illegal -- it isn't. There's no argument there. There's realistically, nothing to be afraid of from a legal standpoint, which is what makes the behavior from organizations with large legal resources so puzzling.

People keep bringing up Facebook/Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook/Instagram has had no issue with admitting that Snapchat was an inspiration, so that doesn't help your argument. The issue here is credit and attribution, not legality or morality.

> This is in my opinion exactly the same as Instagram implementing stories from Snapchat.

As someone in an earlier comment pointed out, Instagram credited Snapchat.


> The one thing you never hear in Silicon Valley is an entrepreneur admit they copied someone else. Yet there in the headquarters of Facebook, the world’s most prolific product cloner, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom surprised me.

This is uncool of Strava to the point that I'm quite certain that I don't want a Strava subscription anymore so I cancelled it just now.

I'm of the opinion that if it's out there, it's fair game to copy. It's the original holder's responsibility to include a little je ne sai quoi to prevent that from happening

Speaking as someone who had his entire codebase ripped off and rebranded, whole cloth. (Though they forgot to edit the EULA)


Thanks for commenting, and for your work on Footpath. I hadn't seen it before, I'll be downloading it now.

You have stumbled across one of 'problems that many startups rarely address'. I've been involved with several startups and heard hundreds of pitches; and as somebody naturally focused more on the product side, I always get stung when a more pragmatic (i.e. money-orientated - usually an investor) person says "you'll be crushed as soon as you succeed!".

The simple fact is that as soon as a small service invents a product or feature, and shows that it works (such as your app), the big fish are going to ask themselves "which is cheaper: copying the feature, or buying you out?"

As you have no patents, it is naive to think that Strava (or any company) would feel any "ethical" (as you said in your article) qualms about copying you. They had an engineering team look at it (as your server logs show), and report that they could probably copy the feature in a few months i.e less money than they thought it would take to buy you out.

> The issue as I see it is that Strava is being misleading in saying they came up with an idea themselves and can innovate quickly, when in fact the data shows otherwise.

What possible reason would they have for doing otherwise? In the quotes you chose in your post, there are no explicit lies - they don't claim to have invented it, they just say they "came up with the idea for the mobile version". Why would they promote another service needlessly?

I admire you for having created a great product, which I will undoubtedly use. But if you want to create a great business in the future, think from day 1 about how to protect yourself for when it gets successful.

What possible reason would they have for doing otherwise?

The questions re ethics that I'll ask their employees in interviews, should they ever happen to interview with me.

> What possible reason would they have for doing otherwise?


Well, Strava is long past the tipping point where official communication stops making sense and degenerates into meaningless corporatese where any tiny UI change is heralded as the unique innovation that will better our lives forever. This isn't news.

they're describing building a path based on historical data. that's not UI. It is pretty cool.

Routing augmented with historical data has been their standout feature ever since their first baby steps in route planning, it's pretty much orthogonal to the input method.

Unrelated to the footpath UI: last time I checked that historical data did not exactly lead to superior routing at all, because too many different activity types got bunched together: you don't want to get sent down that road that is only good for running/riding when it is closed to traffic for a major event once a year, which causes enough trackings to light it up like crazy on the heatmap. You don't want to go down that immensely popular gravity MTB trail on your roadbike. The list goes on. I get much better routes from a engines working on a plain OSM+elevation dataset. I don't know wether that is because I treated it before they made great improvements, because they have never really tried our because they tried and failed to make it better. I suspect that it is "never really tried" because I expect the kind of talent Strava attracts to easily ML those problems away if they would/could really put their minds to it and because lack of depth seems to be the universal rule for all Strava features outside the narrowest core of, I don't know, "competitive social".

PS: didn't even mean to refer to the introduction of footpath-style UI in "UI change". Initially I wrote "UI color change", but then decided to dial down a bit on exaggeration. But it kind of makes sense either way.

Oh, and the "footpath UI" certainly is UI, but neither the kind of superficial change that I intended to refer to nor purely a frontend change, it certainly does need considerable algorithm work on the backend.

Personally I find "the footpath UI" very cool on a technical level, but perfectly useless on the level of actual utility for my use cases: as a cyclist I always go either completely without a pre-planned route or with very specific goals in mind (either destination only or with very opinionated tweaking for every detail of the route), never something like "this shadow, that direction, about xyz long". I understand that runners might have more firing needs ("find something nice that connects me through park X, garden Y and gets me back along the waterfront, 90 minutes at peace Z")

But... it's exactly UI.

At this point, your best option is to try to license or sell your tech to a Strava competitor. Fitbit, Garmin, UnderArmour (MapMy*), Asics (Runkeeper) come to mind.

They have the resources to overwhelm your work within the year. Hopefully your lawyer has already put you on this path.

Edit: If there are any Fitbit folks in here, I would kill for this feature. Doubly so if my watch's GPS route corrected itself if it matched the predefined route.

One of Strava's largest competitors actually reached out a few years ago interested in licensing Footpath's tech, but we decided not to move forward on the deal for various reasons.

I'm not so worried about any of the above putting Footpath out of business. Footpath goes after a deep niche in a way that competitors are unlikely to imitate.

Yes, that's where I'd focus my efforts. Stay focused on the positives here vs bitterness and negatives. Continue doing what you're doing, which is to utilize the current situation for as much awareness building as possible for your niche application. Have you seen an uptick in interest since this all began? Good luck to you.

> Footpath goes after a deep niche in a way that competitors are unlikely to imitate.

Why call them competitors then?

Oh, and kudos (sorry) for committing to the niche, sounds like like you are bootstrapping because I don't think that any investor would allow that. We need more of that, not another overfunded experiment in converging on the biggest market.

Ok, your app rocks. Mapped out all my standard routes quickly and I didn't need to create an account.

You've got me half way to believing you can hold out.

Sorry this happened to you, something very similar happened to my company, but thankfully we had filed a provisional patent. At the end of the day, all you can do is take solace in the fact that you know they copied you even if they wont admit it. If you do think there is any patentable IP in there, you have a year from when you first built/disclosed it to file, so might be an option?

>At the end of the day, all you can do is take solace in the fact that you know they copied you even if they wont admit it.

I'd avoid getting into that mindset. Fight tooth and nail for what's owed without damaging your quality of life. Ideas and opportunity like this don't come around often in life.

The good news is, had Strava not demonstrated a...lack of creativity, this story wouldn't have shown up on HN, and I wouldn't have downloaded your app. I've played with a total of 60 seconds, and...holy shit, that's cool. Expect some in-app purchase money soon, I foresee getting a ton of use out of this.

(Strava can do what they want, I gave up on them a while ago.)

Maybe it's not the user interface that's novel, it's how they use their data? Does Footpath have something like heatmap data that it uses to chart a path?

> The issue as I see it is that Strava is being misleading in saying they came up with an idea themselves and can innovate quickly, when in fact the data shows otherwise.

Is there a real issue with this, or are you being petty? Is there a legal complaint to be made, or are you just trying to smear Strava or gain attention for yourself? Marketing constantly exaggerates how novel or innovative new technology is.

Your app looks really cool; too bad I can't try it out due to no Android version.

Are there any plans for an Android or device-agnostic (i.e. web) version?

Yes! An Android version will be coming later this year.

I'm a fellow runner and have been looking for something like this for a long time. Going to give it a try! Thanks for making it!

Ironically, I wasn't aware of footpath until just now- so perhaps this is actually good for you :)

>“It’s very plausible that Strava based their new feature in large part on Footpath, and in the process may have conducted extensive experimentation with Footpath,” Merkel told CyclingTips. “However, nothing I’ve seen demonstrates — and nor does Footpath appear to be claiming — that legally-protected intellectual property was copied.

This. The implemented UI looks different, aside from the feature of letting the user trace out a route with their finger. There is nothing wrong with doing market research on another app and testing out how well their functionality works before deciding to implement similar functionality yourself is perfectly fine. If you think your idea is really novel, file a patent on it.

No one said it's wrong or illegal. If you've ever had something you made be deemed worthy enough to copy by a large company, then surely you've experienced the feeling that comes along with that.

You created something that's being used by lots of people, but you'll never get any credit or attribution for it.

In fact, the credit goes to someone else. It's a shitty feeling. It feels violating, like someone stole from you.

It seems like the author is just venting. Just some simple acknowledgement is enough to make most people in cases like this happy. But then that mars the accomplishments of everyone who was involved with the "inspired" work.

> No one said it's wrong

Actually, they have, unless "cross an ethical line" means something else.

I don't consider 'wrong' and 'unethical' to be synonyms. Feel free to disagree.

To help me understand your opinion, could you give me an example of something that is unethical but not wrong?

A lawyer betraying a client is unethical. A lawyer defending a monstrous serial killer is wrong. (Modulo your definition of "wrong", of course)

Edit: Some serious misunderstanding here.

1) An "alleged serial killer" may very well be known to be an actual serial killer, by the killer's lawyer.

2) I'm just providing an answer to parent's question to a different commenter.

3) A lawyer betraying a client is unethical, even though it may not be morally wrong.

This is not a made-up example. See the Robert Garrow case: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/the_buried_bodies_case

"This episode we consider a string of barbaric crimes by a hated man, and the attorney who, when called to defend him, also wound up defending a core principle of our legal system. When Frank Armani learned his client’s most gruesome secrets, he made a morally startling decision that stunned the world and goes to the heart of what it means to be a defense attorney - how far should lawyers go to provide the best defense to the worst people?"

This lawyer made the choice to defend a known killer, which was his professional, ethical obligation, despite being personally, morally opposed to his own actions.

michael cohen, is that you?!

but seriously, that’s a stunningly poor choice of examples. why do you want to distinguish these things in the first place?

> A lawyer defending a monstrous serial killer is wrong.

Why? Alleged serial killers do not deserve a lawyer?

A lawyer betraying a client is not wrong?

This... doesn't seem that bad?

They checked out the app, took a few screenshots (23, hardly earth-shattering), and built their own version. The creator of Footpath thinks Strava's version isn't very good, so they clearly haven't copied the actual algorithm, just taken inspiration from the idea (which is arguably not that novel).

As someone who has had a huge company copy something that I made, just some credit would have been nice. It was part of a job application that I submitted to them (I didn't get the position). It still bothers me that millions of people have enjoyed something that I came up with, but I'll never be credited.

On top of that, someone working at the company got credit and praise when it wasn't even their concept to begin with.

I know that credit/acknowledgement can't be given due to legal issues, but the average person isn't going to be able to afford to fight legally.

Even if they could afford it, they would have no legal legs to stand on. It would be pure spite litigation.

I have no idea how widely known footpath was before this "incident", but they certainly got exposure.

E.g. me, I never heard of footpath before, the first time I stumbled over this draw&match method of route planning was with the release of the Sigma Rox 12 bike GPS, apparently long after footpath implemented it and only few months earlier than the Strava version.

As the saying goes: you can die from exposure.

name shaming

They were recently in the media for sexism/bro culture. I'm surprised what they do with the work submitted by design applicants (which you admittedly sign over all rights to, perfectly legal) didn't come up at the same time, since I'm sure plenty of women have had their work used with no credit.

Demonstrating poor mind-reading skills, I'm guessing that this is Riot Games and that the design questions on the interview were related to creating new in-game content for League of Legends.

Ding ding ding

Questions is an understatement, that shit was a full design doc. Mine was about 15 pages long.

> took a few screenshots (23, hardly earth-shattering)

Are you saying there is a number of screenshots that would be earth-shattering?

The core of the argument FTA:

>>Wolfe did some digging into Footpath’s server logs, to see whether staff at Strava had been using Footpath. They had.

“I discovered multiple accounts and dozens of routing requests originating from Strava’s corporate IP address starting in November — literally hours after the Product Hunt tweet about Footpath,” Wolfe said. “Digging even further, a good percentage of the requests occurred over a six-hour period on December 12th and 13th. Strava’s December ‘hackathon’ where they purportedly conceived the idea? Also right around this time.”

Footpath’s Application Programming Interface (API) logs, seen by CyclingTips, do indeed show multiple instances of Footpath API access from Strava HQ between October and December 2018. Four requests were made in the day following Product Hunt founder Ryan Hoover’s tweet tagging Strava. Several clusters of requests followed through November before a flurry of activity in December.

Footpath’s API logs show nearly two and a half hours of activity from a user at Strava HQ on December 12, including the creation of 23 screenshots between 5:04pm and 7:25pm. The logs also show continued access between 10:45am and 8:40pm the following day. Four further API requests were made from Strava HQ through January.

What argument? That Strava's employees examined a competitor's app? A lot of apps are in trouble if this is considered bad behavior.

Strava didn't steal any code. They copied a feature's presentation and UX, right? I'm sure Snapchat re: Instagram would be highly interested if there was a legal or even moral issue here, especially when there's no patent protection.

> including the creation of 23 screenshots between 5:04pm and 7:25pm

Tracking screenshots is really creepy.

Full disclosure: Footpath does currently collect an analytics event when a screenshot gesture is invoked (absolutely no screenshot data) to decide whether to present a share prompt, and it had the unintended side effect of revealing suspicious account activity. I've already updated the code to remove the event in the next release.

I'm happy to answer any questions about privacy and the data Footpath collects: https://footpathapp.com/privacy

Your privacy policy does not mention that you collect and store data on when users take screenshots

And publicly disclosing user screenshot counts and times is extra creepy.

This was the most surprising part of the article for me. I had no idea an app publisher could tell when I had taken a screenshot.

(I don't use iOS myself; I assume if it's possible on iOS it's possible on Android as well?)

Off topic but "Strava’s corporate IP address" - How do people even figure that out? Maybe it's super obvious, but I'm not familiar? Can someone explain...

Creator of Footpath here. I didn't know this was possible either until I looked up the suspicious IP from the logs: https://www.ip2location.com/demo/

I ask this sincerely: how much understanding of internet protocols did you have going into this project?

whois <ip address> will show you the owner of an IP.

Sometimes it'll trace back just to an ISP, or to something like AWS, but larger companies will often own their own block of IPs directly.

Ahhh, I guess that's why I got confused. Anytime I had run an IP check at previous/current jobs, I would always get back a generic ISP so you wouldn't see the company name. I hadn't ever been at a job that actually had their own block of IPs like that. That's what tripped me up. Makes more sense. So basically you can sometimes get to that info of who it is, and sometimes not.

Seems they reverse engineered it more than copy it.

Snapping a rough/imprecise path onto a road system is not novel. The same type of algorithms are already used by all major mapping apps during rerouting and to correct for GPS inaccuracy during route transit.

Sigma also has this feature in one of their GPS units: http://disq.us/p/202igai

The UX seems novel to me. Unfortunately, as said elsewhere, that's not protectable by patent or anything else.

What exactly about this is novel? Allowing the user to draw a path and matching it to the nearest path sounds like the most user friendly thing to do on mobile. If I was developing a similar app, I would have done the same without knowing about either of these. I've thought before that this would be a useful feature in Google Maps.

I've been using this site for probably 10 years, does something similar: https://www.gmap-pedometer.com/

Garmin had a simple version of this years ago. It was on desktop, not mobile, and so was done with a mouse, but it snapped beautifully to the nearest path.

Why is that unfortunate?

Surprisingly little sympathy for the "little guy" in the comments so far. No, the technique is not patented. Yes, copying it or reverse engineering it is legal. Yet it's still a craven and unfair act. If you can't hold the two contradictory ideas in your head simultaneously, you're not very smart. Strava's version is not an act of "innovation" that needs protection from being "stifled" - the innovation was someone else's. Big companies can afford to patent ideas they steal from small ones that can't. It is legal and unfair.

Surprising amount of support for owning an vague idea. I'm all for copyright and patent protections (to a point) but this is a bit ridiculous.

If you're browsing this website on Chrome or Firefox running on Windows or Linux then you should be pretty happy about these "craven and unfair acts". We stand on the shoulders of giants.

I mean, if we treat them like giants, fine. But this is more like a giant wearing a $1,500 suit standing on the shoulders of a normal-sized dude. Still, I'm all for it if everybody goes into it with the expectation of sharing, i.e. some permutation of an open source and/or free software philosophy or license, like 3/4 of your examples are based on. But if one for-profit company copies from another, it's not hard to see there's an underhanded element to it; somebody can't compete on the merits but wants to be paid anyway. I know I know, "it's just business."

I don't see why it should fair a single-developer to copy an idea from a company but not the other way around. What does size have to do with it?

And remember, we're still not talking about copying code or violating patents -- we're just talking copying a simple idea. Something that still requires work to implement.

Copying ideas is the foundation of every industry. Is it immoral of you to build a better or cheaper car because Henry Ford got there first? Airplanes? Windowing systems? Command-line shells? Bicycles?

This is frankly just BS. You cannot hold ownership over an idea -- it's just not possible. And when you release your idea from your brain into the world, other people will learn it. You can't force them to not use your idea for themselves because you thought of it first.

> Strava's version is not an act of "innovation" that needs protection from being "stifled"

Who said it was?

> Big companies can afford to patent ideas they steal from small ones that can't

Has Strava patented this idea? If not, how is that relevant?


People will copy. Footpath, like any other app, used a lot of mapping and mobile app ideas invented by dozens of people over the years. Hell, they literally use (not just copy) OpenStreetMaps, yet you won't see that in the App Store description, just a mention in their website's FAQ. That's just how innovation works, everyone copies from everyone, and we're better off for it.

> Hell, they literally use (not just copy) OpenStreetMaps, yet you won't see that in the App Store description, just a mention in their website's FAQ

OSM wants people to use the data! That's why we're making the data and making a map database. :)

But the OSM licence requires they attribution, in this case it would mean displaying it on the screen. Which they don't do. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Craven, unfair, "not very smart". With all of this name-calling, why do you expect sympathy?

The only unethical aspect of the whole story is that Strava claimed it is their innovation. Welcome to the real world, companies do this all the time. The amount of time I've seen Apple do this (and no, not a hater; we own 4 MBPs).

It's unethical to throw around accusations without much basis. I read the article, and Strava's claim could easily be that this is a unique innovation because it uses heat maps and not just road data to generate the route. I don't know, and it doesn't sound like anyone else knows enough to start name-calling.

If someone does something on Tuesday, and I comment on it on Wednesday, they don't get to claim their actions on Tuesday are caused by my comment on Wednesday.

And that Strava bragged this as a novel feature. That rankles me. Pretending they came up with this during a hackathon.

It is a shame that Strava couldn't just hire the creator of Footpath. While the latter's creator correctly acknowledges how common this is in our industry, it does shine a negative light on Strava.

I think one of the reason "big tech" is so successful in general is that, any time anyone might have a disruptive idea, they can just put tons of money and engineers toward replicating it. The IP, profits, and talent remain (and continue drifting toward) those large companies.

How is Strava cast in a bad light?

Every company on the planet keeps tabs on what their competition is doing.

It's been explained and reasoned about quite extensively here.

I don't see how it shines a negative light on Strava. Sure, for the 100s of HackerNews types who hope to have their own innovative startup someday, but all these practices have been going on in the industry for decades of inspiration passing around from company to company.

Not every 'feature' is going to become a company, as supposedly Steve Jobs told the DropBox founders when they were showing him DropBox. [1]

I completely agree with you about big-tech having an easy time duplicating a disruptive idea, which is why you actually need to build a disruptive business.

[1] https://pando.com/2012/02/26/steve-jobs-was-right-dropbox-is...

I don't get this post. Honestly.

Companies use this jargon of `breakthrough in the space`, it has been nonsense since Apple introduced FaceTime as a breakthrough in the space even though you had video chat for ages before that.

> “But you cross an ethical line when you copy an idea without any meaningful differentiation and attempt to call it your own, let alone attribute the source of your inspiration.

This, to me, is complete BS. I mean, yes, it would be nice if PMs would actually attribute it and then in companies press release it would mention that but that's just a very naive expectation.

Yes, it is naive to expect businesses not to tell lies and to refrain from representing other people's ideas as their own. But it is also naive to expect people not to complain about it.

I could easily see looking at "How have other apps done user interaction type X" when implementing something - not just to copy, but so you can say "Oh, I hate how that feels." I suspect there was a lot of use of Google Maps (e.g. https://www.maps.ie/map-my-route/ and https://support.google.com/mymaps/answer/3433053) from Strava's HQ around the same time.

To me this feels like someone considering doing "swipe to take action" checking out existing apps to see how it's been done elsewhere (e.g. I don't think that Tinder(?) has grounds to go after PocketCasts or MileIQ because both offer "swipe-to-act" features in their UIs).

I think the supposed differentiating feature of Strava's new feature is that they're supposedly integrating the "draw a rough map" feature with their huge backend database of where people run/bike rather than basing a route just on street/trail data. A significant test would be if you sketch a path in both applications that's one street off from a popular running path, do either or both give a result that puts you where people are already running?

A provisional patent on the method would have been a really good thing to have in Footpath’s back pocket right now.

When you’re building functionality that’s whizz-bang cool and brand defining but that’s totally on display, when it’s one of those things that once you see it it becomes “obvious” that was the way to do it... a provisional patent could be the best ~$100 you ever spent.

IANAL, but provisional patents are double-edge swords. You have to file before an offer to sale or launching the functionality in your app, and you need to describe in enough detail what it is you are doing and how it is that you do it. You don’t have to translate this into patent-ese claims at this stage. But any claim you ultimately make in a full application claiming the priority date of the provisional must be fully supported by the provisional text, so it’s good to put everything you’ve thought of to that point in.

The other side the sword is that as soon as you file, a clock starts counting, you have 1 year from filing to make a full-blown patent application based on the provisional, or everything in the provisional then becomes theoretically unpatentable. Since full patent applications are expensive, it’s like a liability on your balance sheet for the next 12 months, because there will be pressure to spend the $10k+ to not “lose” the provisional.

One smaller benefit is that the priority date on the provisional is iron-clad protection against any patent on the same subject matter that is filed after that date.

I would not at all be surprised in a case like this to see Strava try to file some patents on the (copy-cat) feature they just launched. They might not go head-on, but try to patent back-end algorithms that they developed “independently” that probably line up closely with what Footpath already has — because it’s the natural way to approach the problem.

HN is for software patents now?

Some HN users have always been for software patents. Others are not. Despite the groupthink tendencies, HN users do disagree about things.

I certainly don’t speak for HN, but if there’s one case to made for software patents, IMO it’s narrowly focused claims for an innovation that is highly visible on the front-end of your product, or is the defining feature of your product. The type of thing that your competitors never even thought to do until they saw you doing it, and then can cheaply copy in a weekend hackathon.

Drawing a line on a map and having it snap to a route is probably not in itself novel. There may be things that Footpath is doing that turn a “cool idea in practice which doesn’t really work” into a exciting user experience that delivers a lot of value to their customers. Perhaps Footpath has even spent a large share of their limited engineering resources refining the feature to this point. That hypothetical situation to me is exactly when you at least file the provisional.

Even if you never file the utility patent, you can claim “Patent Pending” and [US] competitors would be more likely to hold off on cloning your UX straight away, or could maybe tilt the scales toward an acquisition.

A generic “snap drawing to route” should not be patentable due to I’m sure copious prior art. The question is if there’s something unique Footpath is doing to make it work particularly well for their users (TFA hunted that there was) that breaks new ground.

Software patents haven't carried much weight since Alice, and it doesn't sound like Footpath was the first with this kind of feature. So your advice involves spending a lot of money to try for a patent, and then spend more money to threaten or sue Strava, and then have to pay Strava's legal fees after the patent is thrown out on Alice or prior art grounds.

Their implementation wasn't novel. This is well trodden ground.

I feel like this post is a good illustration of a lesson I learned quite painfully... two or three times before it sank in. When you have a business and you feel like saying a thing, if you can't think of a strong practical benefit to be had from saying it then don't. I feel for the OP, but the main benefit of this post was probably had in the writing of it, at the cost of drawing attention to a competitor.

When patent trolls sue competitors for copying features we 're unhappy. When somebody copies "my idea" we 're unhappy.

What is a good solution? Copying but giving attribution?

How about "don't be that guy who complains that he wasn't given enough credit for his important inventions"?

Instead, go out and create great things. And then tell the story of how you triumphed by thinking hard and moving fast.

I see this as win-win for both companies. I never would have heard of Footpath if not for this news story. A good percentage of readers will now download Footpath and give it a try. That's an audience they wouldn't have had otherwise, and the lifetime revenue stream of a lift like that can be in the thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the size of Footpath's user base and their ability to monetize the traffic.

Meanwhile, us Strava users get a cool new functionality.

I tried this feature on Strava and it is not usable. You just get one swipe to create the route. No zooming or panning during route creation.

There's a simple resolution here: Strava should switch to a more usable interface design. What works better is allowing someone to create a series of dots which they can drag around to adjust, while allowing zooming and panning during route creation.

Strava needs to start over on this feature anyway.

Yeah, while Strava copied Footpath's flashy demo, they kind of missed the point of how people actually plan routes.

Most Footpath users have specific routes in mind and prefer zooming + panning to draw their route in multiple, shorter segments. Footpath has some editing tools that improve upon the hold & drag UI you'd normally find on the web.

I just downloaded Footpath, since I'm not a fan of Strava's routebuilder.

However, and forgive the ignorant question, how different is Footpath to EasyRoute (which is free, & supports uploads to Wahoo, Strava [iirc], and others)?

The end goal of the apps are very similar, though Footpath places a greater emphasis on the route building + editing UI, as well as what you can do with map layers.

One aspect of EasyRoute that is pretty awesome is its support for exporting turn instructions to Wahoo + Garmin GPS devices via FIT files (the developer works for Wahoo by day), while Footpath only supports exporting the route data to GPX files right now.

Hope that helps.

Yep, thanks for the response!

It was the FIT export that had me download it initially. Not sure it supports turn-by-turn though; haven't tried recently.

A side effect of coming out with these accusations is that people (like me) are learning about the existence of Footpath. I've never been into the competitive side of Strava, but Footpath looks like a useful app.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You shouldn't be upset at all. Just think of the poor environment Strava has created that results in them being completely devoid of original thought?

Earlier this week, I tried out Strava's mobile implementation, which did not work well for me at all.

I'll definitely be sticking to their web version, which they've had for years.

I've never tried Footpath, but so far I've found the best app for setting up bike apps on mobile is the German app Komoot.

"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." - Harry S Truman

Why wouldn’t Strava clone Footpath? Does Footpath have a patent?

Because if Footpath's UX is like Strava's for this feature, it's barely usable.

I do want to give a shout out to Strava. I don't know their economics, but it's an amazing app, it's completely taken over their niche, and you can tell they just care.

I honestly don't know how they support an app of such complexity and full features.

Kudos to them.

As a very long time Strava user, I think they actually don't deserve any kudos here. They have the "best" app in the sector, but only because they have essentially the only sports social network out there. They have done nearly nothing to improve the app or user experience in years. They know they have the network effect down, and are heavily resting on their laurels.

One example: if you look at similar, more serious training apps in the sector (i.e. Training Peaks) the amount of analytics and richness around training plans is just night and day. Strava has had all the data to present a really great analytics experience and they don't.

I know I'm arguing for Strava "stealing" more features from competitors, but in this case it would be how competition should work. Two entities of similar power push each other to improve features. Instead, Strava relies on its network effect to essentially be a comfortable monopoly, and Training Peaks knows that it likely won't be successful at putting together a social network in a similar way (Garmin, the biggest equipment maker in the space has tried and has essentially gotten no traction).

It's not the worst thing in the world, these are not real problems. So what, I pay for 2+ sites when 1 good innovative one would be enough. But for Strava to pretend it's innovative, when at best it's cribbing from actual innovators below their size, is pretty rich.

I haven't used Training Peaks since it was a Flash/Flex app. I imagine for a vast majority of Strava's user base, they're not into the detailed micro-management of their workout plans and goals. And they likely aren't athletes working with coaches, etc.

There's been plenty of new app features and user interface updates over the years. I think you're conflating your needs of a highly technical training plan with goals and demographics of the Strava app.

That said, I'm still waiting for Strava, Zwift and Trainer Road to merge into the mega one-stop-shop. ;)

Edit: Also add RideWithGPS to my uber-list of one company, since I use them to generate my route maps over Strava's version, because I think it's better, which actually goes to show that the little guy can still compete. (Probably a small niche market, though.)

>> 'They have the "best" app in the sector, but only because they have essentially the only sports social network out there.'

You could almost say this about any successful app. Facebook is by no means the best at any of the things they do, but they're the site that has the highest adoption rates, so it is what it is.

For whatever reason, people prefer Strava over the alternatives, and so they get to be the best as long as people don't go elsewhere.

Personally, I use Garmin Connect and Strava both, each for different reasons, and it really rounds out my data and social network needs.

I can’t import Apple Health data into Strava without another third party app. It’s been a pending feature request for years.

So I don’t bother with Strava anymore. I just use the default Apple workout app.

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