Business, Finance & Economics

Why would Specialized Bicycle go after an Afghan war veteran's bike shop?

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Credit: Cafe Roubaix
Dan Richter started his bike shop, Cafe Roubaix, as a way to cope with PTSD after more than 20 years in the Canadian armed forces. He had no idea it would lead him into a new battle against one of the largest bike brands in the world.

Dan Richter started his bike shop, Cafe Roubaix, as a way to focus his life after more than 20 years in the Canadian armed forces.

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The tiny shop, located in the rural town of Cochrane, Alberta, helps him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. In many ways, Cafe Roubaix is his salvation. 

But for one of the biggest bike brands in the world, Specialized Bicycle Components, Richter's dream was just another company infringing on one of its trademarks.

In this case: Roubaix. 

Specialized has had the name trademarked in Canada since 2007. Specialized's Roubaix trademark covered all bicycles, bicycle frames and bicycle components. The company has not returned our calls for comment on the matter, but it's well within its rights to force Richter to change the name of his shop.

Social media thought otherwise.

Richter's story, originally told by Tom Babin of The Calgary Herald, raced across Facebook and Twitter. Cyclists and others wrote scathing comments on Specialized's Facebook page. Specialized had a global PR nightmare on its hands: Goliath picks on a David, who just happens to be a war vet.

Others complained about Specialized claiming ownership of the word "Roubaix." Roubaix is a town north of Paris on the border with Belgium, home to one of the most famous bike races in the world, the Paris-Roubaix. In addition to being part of cycling lore, it's everywhere in the cycling industry, from jerseys, to sunglasses to another company's bike line

And then it came to light that, while Specialized owns the trademark in Canada, the same can't be said in the US. Advanced Sports International (ASI) apparently owns it there. And in an interview with Bicycle Retailer, ASI said that Specialized had no right going after Richter:

“Like many trademark owners, ASI does not register its trademarks in every country and never tried to register the mark in Canada. ASI only recently learned of Specialized’s registration of the Roubaix trademark in Canada and ASI’s position is that Specialized’s registration of the mark in Canada was inappropriate under the terms of their license agreement."

So as it stands right now, lawyers from Specialized, ASI and Cafe Roubaix are working on a solution. And it looks like Richter will be able to keep the name Cafe Roubaix.

Richter believes that's because of the people behind the "social media explosion," who rallied around his tiny shop. 

In a sense, it gave him a slingshot, and made the giant fall to the ground.

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