display at the Oregon Handmade
Bicycle Show last month.
(Photos © J. Maus)
Portland resident Edwin Brown has been building his Sprout Cycles brand since 2005. Now he’s fighting to keep it after learning that a much larger company has
registered attempted to register a trademark for ‘Sprout’ bicycle products and plans to start is considering a new line of kids bikes under the same name.
Back in October, The Coloradoan reported that Swobo — a well-known bike industry brand owned by Santa Cruz Bicycles in California — had relocated to Fort Collins, Colorado. According to The Coloradoan Swobo’s new CEO Peter Discoe has plans to rebuild the brand under the Fort Collins Bicycle Company umbrella. Among his plans for Swobo is a new line of kids bikes dubbed “Sprout.”
From The Coloradoan:
“In addition to selling Swobo apparel and bicycles, the company is also planning to sell a children’s line of bikes called Sprout… Discoe said they are trying to create a “lifestyle brand” with Swobo where people are excited about owning their products.”
Brown was not contacted by anyone at Swobo or the Fort Collins Bicycle Company about using that name and only heard about it after a friend read the news in Bicycle Retailer.
Brown has contacted Portland-based intellectual property attorney Chris Tuttle (who specializes in bike industry cases) to figure out his options.
“I’m in a bad spot,” Brown told me today, “because I haven’t trademarked my name.”
According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, Sprout was officially
registered applied for as a trademark on September 15, 2011 by the Fort Collins Bicycle Company. Here’s the registered mark (which is very similar to Brown’s existing wordmark)(*Please see update/correction to this below):
Swobo/Fort Collins Bicycle Company
The attorney of record for the registration is listed as Spencer Lueders. According to a bio of Lueders on the website for the 24 Hours of Booty organization, Lueders is a member of the LIVESTRONG Presidents Circle and a patent attorney who has managed legal issues and the patent portfolio for NASCAR, Inc.
Brown now feels like he must fight for his name if he has any hope of keeping it. He plans to contact someone at Swobo to “alert them, or re-alert them that there is a trademark confusion issue here.”
When asked how he feels about his name being trademarked by someone else, Brown said he’s “distraught” and “upset.”
“When it comes down to it, when you Google ‘Sprout’ and ‘bicycle’ my site comes up first,” he told me via telephone today. “I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt… maybe they didn’t research the name first; but my fear is that they did do research and found that I hadn’t trademarked it yet.”
Brown, 29, says simply giving up his brand name isn’t an option at this point. He says he’s never pulled money out of his business to pay himself, and that he’s spent everything on marketing and going to bike shows. “My equity lies in name recognition, so redefining myself would come at a great expense.”
Brown still puts in a few shifts at a local pub, but his dream is to have Sprout be successful enough so that he could put service jobs behind him. “This is supposed to be what I’m doing for the rest of my life.”
I hope to hear back from either Spencer Lueders or Peter Discoe to learn more of their side of the story. I will post a follow up when I can.
UPDATE, 11/11 at 1:40 pm: Please see my follow up story here.
UPDATE: A lawyer has chimed in with a comment saying that Ft Collins Bicycle Company has only applied for the Sprout trademark. I haven’t had a chance to verify this yet, but wanted to let folks know. The comment is below:
“… Ft. Collins has not federally registered the mark, it has only filed an application to do so. The US Patent and Trademark Office hasn’t considered the application yet. Right now, the application indicates that Ft. Collins hasn’t used the SPROUT mark in commerce, which means that Ft. Collin’s rights in the mark are open to challenge (either inside the US Patent and Trademark Office, or outside, such as in court) from someone who’s used the mark prior to the Sept. 15, 2011 filing date.”