Over the weekend, Tom Babin of the Calgary Herald alerted the world to Specialized latest attempt to go after the little guy. It was about a year ago that giant of the cycling industry sued Volagi, an upstart company in Utah, who was producing performance endurance bicycles using their Longbow arching top tube/seat stay construction, and disk brakes. While Mike Sinyard might have had the smallest of cases with the founders of Volagi, Robert Choi and Barley Forsman, being former Specialized employees, that was grasping at straws. In the end, the court threw out eight of nine claims, leaving Volagi to pay $1 for a breach of contract. A “Penny Ride” was organized, and the court ordered sum was paid in full, but there were also the lawyer fees and the time wasted on both sides to contest the dispute. It can be said that Volagi also benefited from the exposure the lawsuit gave them.
Many in the cycling world decried Specialized actions, and took to social media to express their displeasure in Specialized’s perceived bullying, and vowed to make it hurt where the company would feel it the most, in sales. That same battle cry is being heard again, this time over actions taken towards a small bike shop in Cochrane, Canada.
Dan Richter opened Cafe Roubaix Bicycle Studio after being medically discharged from the Canadian military after over 20 years of service, suffering PTSD after serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He took his savings, and various payments he received from the military, and expanded his operations from a wheel building business he ran from his garage, to a store front in Cochrane. Now a full service shop offering a boutique atmosphere, Richter has expanded the brands he carries to offer just about anything a rider needs. None of which comes from Specialized.
Earlier this year, the Morgan Hill company informed Richter that he was in breach of copyright by using Roubaix in the name of his store. Specialized was not able to file the trademark in the US for the bike that uses the same name as a iconic city in France, but was able to in Canada. They claim that they are merely defending their trademark, yet the term Roubaix is used universally in the cycling industry. When it comes to durable performance oriented products, you’ll be hard pressed not to find a Roubaix moniker associated with it. Fuji has a Roubaix frame, Veloflex and Challenge both have tires that bear the name, and then there is the Roubaix and Super Roubaix fabric found in many cold weather clothing items. What about the events, Cherry-Roubaix, Barry Roubaix, the Hilly Billy Roubaix, etc? Richter is quick to point out that the name of his shop has nothing to do with the specific bicycle, but instead is in reference to France, and the traditionally torturous race, Paris-Roubaix. He does not believe there will be any confusion between the Specialized brand and his business, based on it’s name. Specialized seems to think otherwise, and has again launched a “defend it or lose it” campaign against a small business.
Larry Koury, managing director of Specialized Canada Inc. commented to the Calgary Herald, “We are required to defend or lose our trademark registration.” A search of Canadian Trademarks could have prevented the issue he believes.
Richter has been left frustrated with the process. In speaking with Babin, “The response throughout this process (from Specialized) has been arrogant and almost unbelievably dismissive.”
It seemed the only course of action for the Canadian vet would be to change the name of the shop, which unravels any progress made in developing a brand and reputation, along with costs of changing signage, branding, and supplies with the Roubaix name. Richter did not have the money to fight the battle, but an outpouring of supporters are trying to change that. As the story has spread, Babin reported in a follow up article that lawyers have stepped up to work pro bono on the case, product is flying off the shelves, and support has been overwhelming. An Indiegogo page has even been set up to support the fight. At the time of this story, there were 13 hours left, and over $2,100 has been raised. The fight is still a long ways from being over, but with the attention that has been gained over the dispute, the shop’s name might remain the same after all.
“This is encouraging and exciting, and I’m finding it very humbling as well,” Richter told Babin. “I’m really amazed by the level of support. It’s overwhelming.”
What’s next? Will Specialized sue every airport world wide for using the name Tarmac when describing the area around their terminals?
Tell us how you feel about Specialized’s latest actions in the comments below.