The Bike Giant That Stole Christmas

Here’s a story making its rounds in the cycling press:

The short version is: Afghanistan vet with PTSD spends his life savings to start small, 2nd-floor bike shop called ‘Café Roubaix’, begins to see some success, receives letter from Specialized threatening law suit because he’s using ‘their name’ – that is, the name of a small city in northern France.

What’s interesting about this story to me is the huge outpouring of support from the cycling community for Dan, the owner of the shop. Whoever is right legally, we humans (not ‘people’, since corporations are people, too!) happily still appear to have, hot-wired into our brains, an innate sense of justice that transcends what might or might not be written in laws. It gives me hope.

If you don’t believe me, check out the sh*t storm that is brewing on the Specialized Facebook page.


38 thoughts on “The Bike Giant That Stole Christmas

  1. Corporations are not people, per se, we all know this. They are, however, made up of people. This much is obvious. In the US, the leap that corporations are “people” is made a big deal of because corporations are taxed. No taxation without representation” is a core principle in our Constitution. If corporations are taxed, they must be represented by Congress, just the same as I am. Specialized, if I had to guess here, will lose a lawsuit and are just hoping to pressure him into changing the name. Given Canada’s obvious ties to France I can’t imagine they hope to win in a real law suit. I won’t be burning my Venge over the deal but Specialized screwed up. With enough negative coverage and outrage I’d be willing to bet they’ll drop their badgering.

  2. Social media is blowing up about this. Specialized underestimated how interconnected the cycling community can be, and they are going to be significantly hurt. I’m shocked that they haven’t made any sort of comment yet.

    Specialized is coming out looking downright evil, but I think the other guy probably could have done his research. The issue isn’t the name of his shop, but more that he’s releasing wheels with the Roubaix name. I’m not sure his side of the lawsuit is as much of a slam dunk as the internet seems to think, but Specialized loses either way.

  3. I saw this article earlier. I’m glad that specialized are getting some negative media about this. Maybe they’ll come after me for not capitalizing the ‘s’ in specialized. It’s good you wrote about it.

  4. Your thoughts about corporations as a group of people are interesting. It would be nice to be a fly on a wall in the office that gives the go ahead to a marketing campaign that says, “We are lowering prices just for you,” when they are lowering 6 prices and raising 2543 prices. Do the ‘people’ sit around chortling at their skill in fooling the punters or do they hold their noses and do it anyway because “everyone else does”?

    You might well wonder how any ‘bunch of people’ could trademark a town’s name in the first place.

  5. The real injustice is that some shi**y big yank bike company that gets it’s stuff churned out in Chinese sweat shops,allegedly, (in case they come looking for me) is allowed to high-jack a lovely French towns name !! Obviously it won’t take long till all names have been ‘taken’ …then all the cafe’s in France will have answer to some greedy corporation in the states ! Bianchi and Colnago would never do that!!

  6. I live not far from this guy’s store. I’ve only been in his shop once when I was riding by and he seems like a pretty nice guy just trying to make a living, especially after giving service to his country. Specialized is probably within their legal rights to sue, but regardless of the outcome now the brand damage is done. This is clearly an unintended consequence of their action. The funny thing about brands, whether personal or corporate is that it isn’t what you say about your self that counts, it’s what other people perceive through actions that becomes reality. Right now the actions of Specialized don’t align with the image they’ve tried to portray, ie. actions always speak louder than words on a marketing brochure or web site, and in a world of social media, actions spread faster than an all out sprint by Mark Cavendish.

  7. I just went online and ordered a couple of t-shirts to support him…granted my $60 won’t change’s the thought and support more than the cash

      • good point…at least I can wear a cool shirt while an American corporation craps yet again all over a little guy who will not affect their business by $1. hey, look on the bright side…at least we didn’t invade and kill innocents as we usually do.

  8. As mentioned above, Specialized are surely within their legal rights, but have spectacularly misjudged the reaction of the cycling community. I LOVE the fact that so many people have had their sense of injustice sufficiently provoked by this to want to help, support and donate to this guy. The best thing about the way social media has infiltrated our lives is that people can so quickly mobilize and rise up when needed.

  9. This is a tough one: law vs emotion. Specialized do have ROUBAIX registered as a trade mark in Canada (registration number TMA702027) for bicycles, bicycle frames, and bicycle components, namely bicycle handlebars, bicycle front fork, and bicycle tires. The registered class of goods does not explicitly include wheels, but it appears broad enough to cover wheels. Dan is infringing on Specialized’s IP rights in Canada. Whether a company with no connection to the city of Roubaix other than sending a few bikes each year to a race that ends in Roubaix should be allowed to register Roubaix as a trade mark is a bit of a minefield. However, with respect to the commercial use of Roubaix, Specialized are only different from Dan only in degree, not in kind, as the former have it registered but the latter does not. They are both using it for commercial purpose. Perhaps Specialized’s way of handling it was heavy handed. They are well within their legal rights, but they have made a massive PR mess. It would be interesting to see how they will manage the shit storm.

    • Emotion, yes, but I wonder if it’s not something deeper, e.g. the sense of ‘justice’ I mentioned in the article. I’d like to think so because then it means we are not offended by Specialized actions because of a knee-jerk emotional reaction, but because we feel that they are wronging Dan and his shop on a level we can all understand. Everyone was bullied once as a child.

      For me it just seems obscene that you could call a name – particularly one you didn’t even create yourself – ‘Intellectual Property’, but that’s another topic, for another blog, by another blogger!

      • Gerry, I think this is one of those things where we need to agree to disagree. ‘Justice’ has been mentioned by many, but I am not sure what the basis for justice is in this context. I don’t care for Specialized at all, so I don’t have a horse in this race. However, I am struggling to see how they have actually wronged Dan. I feel sorry for Dan for getting into this pickle with a much larger company because he didn’t do due diligence on the name. Think of it this way. Let’s say you have built a large cycle tour operator that operates in multiple countries. You call it Gerry (a name you didn’t invent) and register it as a trade mark in the service class of tourism, in all the countries where you operate. Then, another guy called Gerry, a decorated war veteran with permanent physical and psychological disabilities starts a cycle tour company called Gerry Tours (because he is clueless about trade mark rights), in one of the countries where you have ‘Gerry’ registered as a trade mark and operate. He is infringing on your IP rights. He is a nice guy. He has been through some tough times. He put his life savings into his upstart business. You had spent shed loads of money, time and effort to build your successful business, also from scratch. And then, Gerry Tours turns up. What happens next?

        • I understand what you’re saying, Chikashi. I do. And I don’t want to even pretend I know the vaguest thing about Intellectual Property rights.

          But for your scenario to be a bit closer to the reality we’re talking about I think it would go something like this:

          I have a cycling tour company called ‘Cycling Languedoc’ (Specialized) and offer one tour called ‘Gerry’ (Roubaix). I have built this company up and it is now one of the largest tour companies in the world, with revenues of $500,000,000 a year. Then a guy named Gerry comes along and starts a company called ‘Gerry Tours’ (Café Roubaix), but it is really a bike shop that does some guided rides on the side (Café Roubaix is not making bikes, remember – although they do make wheels).

          I am filthy rich and super successful. Am I concerned that Gerry Tours has a similar name as one of my many, many products?

          The answer is I have no idea, Chikashi, but this was a fun exercise!

        • The rational side says one thing. The compassionate side says something else. And, they are seemingly irreconcilable…

  10. I believe that the US courts have ruled that corporations are “people.” Not that they are made up of people. If that is correct, it is one more sad commentary on the system, and things the “founding fathers” didn’t anticipate. Anyway, how does a corporation get to trademark a town name? Can I have Toulouse, or maybe Pau? Gerry gets Nimes. It’s stupid.

    Next we know, Suze (that French aperitif I have fun with signs, ashtrays, cycling jerseys, my nickname before I knew it existed) will probably sue me. Oh wait, maybe not, it is ln’t a US corporation yet, is it? Time to buy a tshirt.

  11. They need to “specialize” in building bikes, not harassing people. I despise when million-dollar whatevers get their panties in a wad over something so ridiculous. Within their rights or not, some numb nut just lost the company a lot of potential money over this brainy decision.

      • It would have been a better piece if he had picked up the origin of the name Fuji…

        Anyway, before Richter took the matter to the court of public opinion, I think that there were a couple of scenarios for quietly reaching a compromise agreement without necessarily having a lawyer representing Richter, as I think S has a strong claim against the wheels but a questionable one against the shop name, which could have been just an initial negotiating position. Now, I think those options are not really viable without Richter then being accused of selling out, blah-di-blah, and S still being villified.

        I think it’s also interesting to note that, despite the global shit storm, there has not been any Canadian IP lawyer who has stepped forward to represent Richter either pro bono (good publicity) or for an equity stake in the shop. Does that say something? I don’t know.

  12. OK, this is getting more interesting. Actually, with trade mark and crisis management rolled into one, I’m finding the story gripping. Seen this?

    I just saw that ASI do own the mark in the US (reg 1686272), so Specialized is merely a licensee. ASI is exaggerating a bit because there is no such thing as global ownership of a mark unless they register it in every jurisdiction. Canada is a case in point where the registered owner is in fact Specialized.

    Good news for Richter for the time being.

    And the plot thickens…

    • Yeah, I woke up to that article and had to read it again to make out what it was! I thought it was a hoax at first. I could imagine Fuji’s PR team licking their lips at the prospect of looking so good in the cycling community on this little matter. Worth more than all the money they’ve paid in advertising this year, I’ll bet.

      Good news for Dan and very bad news for Specialized. Have they said anything at all, by the way? They must be in some serious damage control mode right now.

      • I haven’t seen anything coming from S. There are times when a response is counterproductive but this seems a little different…

  13. Makes me want to buy from epix.

    Corporations that piss off enough people can be controlled by public opinion? Doubt it. Or they wouldn’t be going after epix too. And we wouldn’t have oil companies spilling oil all over and not taking responsibility for it.

    Something needs to change. This “apology” was clearly a PR stunt. Who will it be next?

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