Saturday, December 7, 2013

when it stops being funny: specialized-as-bully

A few years ago, an enterprising young woman opened her own custom wheelbuilding business. Called Epic Wheelworks, it was very successful, growing slowly and steadily as more Portland bicycle enthusiasts began to order custom wheels from the small business. Then, the Specialized Bicycle Company stepped in, and forced Jude to change the name of her business or face an expensive lawsuit for trademark infringement. Apparently, they had bought the rights to all uses of the word, "epic". Anyone who dared to use the word anywhere, even in a sentence in a book report, could get sued by Mike Sinyard and his thugs. Owner Jude Kirstein decided not to risk her small business against the 900-pound gorilla that is Specialized, and caved, changing her company's name to Sugar. By all accounts she is doing well, and not only because she's good at what she does, but probably in some small part because the David-and Goliath story of her brush with Specialized earned the sympathy of Portlanders who generally have a strong independent streak and love to stick it to the man whenever possible.

Well, it's happening again. This time, a small bicycle shop near Calgary, Alberta is being forced to change its name. This time, the shop was named for a region in France through which an epic -- oops! -- bicycle race is run each year. The owner of Cafe Roubaix Bicycles is being told by Specialized that if he doesn't change the shop's name immediately, he'll be sued. Specialized is on slightly shakier ground this time, even with their cadre of high-priced attack dogs lawyers; Fuji has a bicycle model called Roubaix and so far there is no report of the two bicycle manufacturers duking it out with each other in court. Apparently Specialized prefers to spend less money going after smaller fish in its efforts to Protect The Brand.

Here's what I think: If you want to support this small business owner, call him up and ask to buy one of his shop's t-shirts with the name Roubaix on it (the artwork is very nice, by the way). If enough of us were to suddenly be seen wearing these, Specialized would have to sue each and every single one of us, a PR faus-pax that even they would not be stupid enough to commit. Or would they?

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