The media firestorm over Specialized bikes (I Am Specialized Lawyer!) suing some poor Canadian bike shop owner for using Roubaix in the store name is getting pretty intense.
However, the aggressive legal action from Specialized isn’t unexpected and follows the company plan for dealing with anybody they feel has infringed on their patents. Never mind the fact that Roubaix is already watered down by apparel companies using Roubaix fabric in half the cycling apparel on the market.
Almost two years ago, Specialized sued two former employees, Robert Choi and Barley Forsman, claiming they used companytrade secrets in the design of a road bike for their bike brand Volagi.
At the time, Choi had this to say about Specialized founder Mike Sinyard: “He’s saying ‘this is my fucking bike,’ just because the bike is red. They think they own the red color. I’m pretty sure SRAM has a component group called Red.”
“We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this. We spent more money on the lawsuit than the entire gross revenue of the bikes we’ve sold. Our houses are mortgaged. (Specialized) spent a million and a half dollars. For a million and a half dollars they should have bought our company,” Choi said.
In the end, it was Choi and Forman who popped the champagne after a court essentially ruled in their favor, fining them the grand sum of $1 dollar. That doesn’t change the fact that Sinyard almost bankrupted them and punished them for leaving the fold.
Who really owns the word Roubaix?
It’s hard to “own” a place — does Chevy really own Tahoe or Malibu or Colorado? Does GMC own Denali, Yukon or Sierra? Is the Italian government suing Toyota because they named a vehicle after Sienna?
We’ll see how Canadian war vet and bike shop owner Dan Richter and his Café Roubaix bike store fare against Specialized. He fought the rebel forces in Afghanistan but it’s safe to say they’re not as ruthless as Specialized when it comes to a perceived trademark threat.
Specialized likes to envision itself as a kind of Apple for bikes. Apple’s Steve Jobs also showed no mercy for anybody he thought was ripping off Apple’s technology. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty but nobody messes with Apple and take at look at their stock price in the last few years.
That said, the negative press and twitter outage over the “big company crushes little bike shop owner” is already costing the Big Red S some sales. We’re sure there’s a lawyer or two that has said Mike, do we really need to take this guy down but Mike said damn, right!
This would seem to be one of those finer PR and commonsense issues where Specialized has to ask, is this necessary — are we really under threat? It is worth the media backlash to make this little guy up in Canada suffer?
Sure, if Trek suddenly announces their own Roubaix bike, you sign the death warrant but this doesn’t seem like a case worth pursuing. (Or course Fuji already does have their own Roubaix bike.)
We’re sure that somebody over at Specialized, “well, Hell, if we let this guy off, pretty some there’s gonna be dozens of Roubaix bike shops all over the country. We gotta shut this down and send a message.
Sadly, that message is not going to do anything for Specialized’s approval ratings. It’s sort of like Lance Armstrong’s “I never called you a bitch” faux pas on Oprah when he tried to downplay his nasty treatment of Emma O’Reilly.
Innovation costs a tremendous amount of R&D and should be protected at pretty much all costs. However, this is one of those situations that Specialized could have handled in a quieter and classier way that might never have even hit the press. “It’s been frustrating,” Richter said. “The response throughout this process [from Specialized] has been arrogant and almost unbelievably dismissive.”
Mike Sinyard is a love him or hate him kinda guy and he’s always been fine with the polarization. He simply doesn’t give a shit what people think and that’s part of his charm. He’s not going to change and so neither will his legal department. They will stick the shiv in whenever they feel justified.
Specialized’s nuclear strike on a Canadian bike shop wouldn’t seem so questionable if the Roubaix name hadn’t already been trademarked back in 1992 by Toshoku America Inc and wasn’t still used by bike manufacturer Fuji. That gets back to Choi’s quote about Specialized trying to own the color red.
In short, Mike Sinyard could use a lighter touch on the brakes but he just likes to squeeze as hard as possible. Goodbye Mr. Richter.