Specialized Feels The Backlash Of Bullying

In schools today, children are reminded that bullying will not be tolerated. Yes, the real world of business is a bit different. Except that sometimes being a bully backfires, and heavy-handed tactics can cost companies a pretty penny or two. The case of Specialized Bicycle Components attempting to protect their trademarked “Roubaix” brand from a small Canadian bicycle shop owner has resulted in an unpleasant, but well-deserved backlash against the giant bicycle company.

Cafe Roubaix is a small shop which was started in a garage and now occupies the second floor of a quaint building in Alberta, Canada. The town of Cochrane has a population of less than 20,000 residents, so it’s not exactly huge. And the shop is located on what is described as the “historic main street”. If you’re getting the impression that this not a huge operation, you’re on the right track. Dan Richter, the owner of the shop, named it after Roubaix, France, finish for the famed Paris-Roubaix bicycle race, which has been run since 1896, more than a few years before Specialized Bicycles went into business.

Specialized Bicycle Components, founded in 1974 by Mike Sinyard, is roughly a half-billion dollar company, with a history of aggressive litigation to protect its trademarks. We’re not just talking about companies using the “Specialized” name, of which there are surely plenty. No, Specialized has trademarked certain words, and vigorously defends themselves against brands or names that are even close, despite the fact that the typical consumer can easily tell that they are different brands.

From wikipedia:

In 2006 Specialized sued Mountain Cycle over its use of the model name “Stumptown” (nickname for Portland), alleging it resembled the Specialized model name Stumpjumper.  Mountain Cycle closed doors shortly thereafter.

In 2009 Specialized had a trademark dispute with a manufacturer of bicycle bags, Epic Designs, now Revelate Designs.

In 2011 Portland wheel builder Epic Wheel Works was forced to change its name due to potential trademark conflict with Specialized.

In 2012 the company sued two former employees after they started the bicycle brand Volagi. Specialized lost on all accounts except one and was awarded one dollar in damages after spending 2.5 million dollars on the lawsuit.

Personally, I’m quite certain that any cyclist about to spend up to $1,675 dollars on a wheelset from a tiny outfit in Canada realizes that the Cafe Roubaix brand has nothing to do with Specialized. But Specialized doesn’t see it that way. Even worse, the  managing director for Specialized Canada, Larry Koury, was quoted as stating “We are required to defend or lose our trademark registration”, which isn’t exactly correct either, according to legal opinions I’ve read.

Regardless of the outcome over this dispute, one thing is certain. Specialized is already feeling the backlash on cycling forums, news outlets, and even their own Facebook page. On the forums I run, I have seen a post from one member stating that this issue helped them get off the fence when debating between a new Trek or Specialized. And others are following suit. There is even talk of cyclists putting up the money for a legal defense. Whatever Specialized hoped to gain by this legal threat, they have more than lost in sales and goodwill. Cyclists can be both fickle and loyal, but they clearly don’t tolerate bullies.

– Brian



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