Can a Bike Company own the Name of A French Town?

If you haven’t noticed I really believe in sticking up for what I believe to be right. I learned of something today that has simply blown my mind, Specialized has some how trademarked “Roubaix” which is the name of a town in France. The town is famous worldwide for the Paris -Roubaix bicycle race, a grueling spring classic. Famous for it’s rough cobble stone sections, rain, snow, cold and injuries it is perhaps the toughest race in road cycling.

Well, some how Specialized has managed to trademark the name of a town that has been used in bike culture for years before Specialized existed. Not only that, they are threatening to sue a bike shop owner if he doesn’t change the name of his shop,

In a short google search I found a Roubaix Bicycles in Greeley Colorado, a Fuji Roubaix bicycle, quite a few tires with the name “Roubaix” in them, handlebar tape named Roubaix and Santini Ray Roubaix Road Bike LS Thermal Winter Baselayer Black! I believe Rock Shox used to have a Roubaix fork (short travel road bike fork) and bet there is a Roubaix Bikes in the town of Roubaix.

Turns out Specialized owns the word “Epic” too and has flexed their  muscles quite a few times enforcing their right to various words they own. Even a 150 year old nickname for Portland, Stumptown used by Mountain Cycles was fought against by Specialized who claimed the name could confuse the public into thinking it was Stumpjumper. The legal costs of Specialized’s law suit against Mountain Cycle may have been a big cause of their failure. More on Epic and other cases of Specialized flexing their muscles on questionable trademark lawsuits here:

Well what do you think? Should an American company be able to trademark the name of a French Town that has been used in the cycling industry since before Specialized existed?

12/10/13 Update, turns out Specialized doesn’t even own the trademark “Roubaix”, Fuji bikes does and they licensed the name to Specialized in an agreement to allow Fuji to use Specialized’s Horst Link suspension. Which, in my humble opinion make Specialized look not only mean, but pretty dumb too!  “We are in the process of notifying Specialized that they did not have the authority, as part of our license agreement, to stop Daniel Richter … from using the Roubaix name,” Cunnane said in an email to BRAIN*. “While ASI does have the authority to object to Mr. Richter’s use of the name and while we at ASI understand the importance of protecting our bicycle model names, we believe that Mr. Richter did not intend for consumers to confuse his brick-and-mortar establishment or his wheel line with our Roubaix road bike. And we believe consumers are capable of distinguishing his bike shop and wheel line from our established bikes.”  * quoted from Bicycle Retailer Article, read the whole article here:


9 replies
  1. AndyJ
    AndyJ says:

    Gene, I am curious what your thoughts on ASI owning the trademark are? I assume that if Mr Richter refused ASI’s license agreement, that ASI would have sued him and prevented him from using the name. In my mind ASI is no different than Specialized, they just sugar coated the delivery system.

  2. Andy
    Andy says:

    Riders, Just like anything else that you spend money on in life, pay attention to where your MTB dollars go and what they do. There are some great companies out there that do great things for the sport and are made up of passionate and caring workers and riders. And then there are companies like Specialized. Specialized has been infamous in the bike industry for these kinds of tactics for the past twenty years. There isn’t a ton of $$$ floating around in the bike industry, and every dollar counts.

    Put those dollars in the right hands!

  3. James
    James says:

    This makes Specialized look ridiculous, greedy, petty,ect. I used to own an S bike a couple years ago and I wouldn’t buy another one of their bikes because of things like this. Plus, I don’t think they offer good value for the money any more. With their buying power they ought to be able to provide a better part spec than some of the smaller brands, but they don’t. I think ASI/Fuji has taken the correct stance on this issue, “We believe the customer is able to distinguish between a bike shop and our product line”. Apparently Specialized doesn’t think we as mountain bikers are smart enough to know the difference. Kudos to Fuji, shame on Specialized.

    I can tell you where my dollars aren’t going to go.

  4. Neil b
    Neil b says:

    Wow, Spesh will be suing us all for using the word brain soon. For sure this does not make them look good. And this is coming from a long time fan.

  5. Tom
    Tom says:

    Thank you for bringing these tactics to our attention. I thought we were all brothers and sisters in bicycling. Specialized has lost my trust and business.

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Double D, I wish more people would understand the principal of voting with their dollars! If you don’t like something you can affect change by not purchasing and telling others why you made that choice.

  6. West Short
    West Short says:

    Thanks for bringing this to the forefront Gene. As a lawyer, I have handled a number of disputes involving intellectual property rights, and some companies are more aggressive than others about it. GM, for example, got very aggressive about the use of the term “Hummer” when they acquired the line from AM General in order to make it a consumer vehicle. Hummer, of course, was a slang term used by the military for the HMMVW (sp?) vehicles. Yet, GM somehow believed it “owned” that name and took it upon themselves to attack every company that used it and force them to stop. So, Specialized’s tactics aren’t unique in American business; its only our thoughts about the tactics that are. We mountain bikers tend to think of the MTB industry as more of a grass-roots, family and community-oriented culture, but for some (or perhaps even a majority) of the companies that are in the industry, it’s a business that has to be run like any other business – for the benefit of its shareholders/owners. The interests of the community only prevail to the extent they are aligned with the interests of the shareholders/owners. It’s no different with Specialized.

    So, has Specialized grown so big that it is thinking like a “big company” and putting its profits and the interests of its shareholders above the interests of the community? Clearly. Will calling Specialized out on this behavior change it? Maybe – but only to the extent changing its behavior is in the interests of its shareholders. In short, perhaps it would serve both Specialized and the community to examine each’s assumptions and beliefs about the other – Specialized might need to understand that the community isn’t going to support these kinds of big-company strong-arm tactics from a bike company, and the community might need to understand that, at their core, all companies serve their shareholders first, and the community second, and that isn’t going to change just because that company make bikes. In short, the fact that we find Specialized’s tactics offensive either says something about the tactics, or about our beliefs. In this case, perhaps it is both.

  7. Tom
    Tom says:

    I wonder if the town of Roubaix can sue Specialized for using their name? That would be JUSTICE!

    Do you know if Specialized has an e-mail address to which we can send our feedback? Thanks for bringing this atrocity to the attention of the mtb community.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *