So it seems as though my thoughts from last night have garnered a little more attention than the blog customarily does. There’s been a lot of thought on both sides of the aisle–some supporting Specialized and some supporting Cafe Roubaix. Here’s one typical ‘pro-Specialized’ comment from the main topic.
You have no idea how much Specialized does for the sport. You have no idea how small a percentage this blog, forum posters and anyone reading this represent. You really think you will get a response? And how exactly does any of this effect any of you personally? Imagine the world of cycling without Specialized? A lot less pro teams, a lot less product innovation and that much smaller the industry. Think about the big picture and put aside your personal feelings. This is a 40 year company that has grown and innovated beyond belief and you are ready to abandon that in a heart beat? OK, but I’d hate to tell you how the rest of the world works. Get off your high chair soap box and go start your own company, support this fragile sport/industry, build it up over 40 years time and then you can have a voice with regards to how that business is run.
There’s a surprising amount of vitriol in that comment. I guess that’s what is most surprising about this issue. Those who are defending Specialized aren’t really going after a legitimate defense of the underlying issues–they’re talking about the importance of Specialized. Simply because Specialized is big and important, they should not be questioned? That seems like it’s doing everyone–Specialized and the rest of the world–a disservice. I’m not hating on Specialized. Quite to the contrary, I want them to succeed. They have a clear PR issue here, and they need to address it before it harms them (further). To respond to the other points here:
- I do realize what Specialized does for the sport. That’s why I’m saddened to see such self-destructive behavior. The innovate or die slogan needs to apply to more than just bike design–they need to apply that to their corporate ethos as well.
- I realize just how small of a group of people read this blog. That’s ok. I’m not a corporate writer, and I don’t make any money off of this blog. I write it to share my thoughts on bike related stuff, and living with Celiac’s disease. No one has to read it. I wrote what I wrote about Specialized because I wasn’t seeing anyone else write it. People are focusing on “Specialized sucks”, or “here’s the underlying legal arguments”, neither of which gets to what I think the central issue for Specialized is. They’re in a self-destructive spiral, it’s getting worse every time they engage in this behavior, and at some point, it’s going to have a major impact upon them. Whether I get a response or not is beside the point. (And no, I don’t really expect a response). My blog is for my thoughts. People can read or not, and can agree or not. My hope is that perhaps someone will read this and agree, and it will have some small impact on the conversation. Over sixteen thousand people have read that post in about twelve hours. It is resonating with some, and others are disagreeing. And as an aside, I don’t see how suggesting that I am insignificant advances your argument. Why does this have to be about attacking?
- How does this impact me personally? I could do a long argument here about how negative actions by any major player in cycling has a trickle-down effect upon cyclists such as myself, but that’s not really the point. The point is that I care about cycling and the cycling community. I want it to be vigorous and healthy. That goal is served by having a lot of very successful companies. The way Specialized was formed is inspirational. I don’t want to see that get harmed.
- I don’t want to see the world without Specialized. That’s why I, along with many others, am suggesting that they need to change their approach to these intellectual property issues.
- I think you’re confusing my post with the writing of others. I’m not suggesting that anyone should abandon Specialized. What I wrote, and what I believe, is that this is happening in the world around us, right now (cyclists are abandoning Specialized). I believe that’s a bad thing for Specialized, and in the long-run, a bad thing for cyclists in general. I don’t want to see that happen, and I wish them success. Attacking small companies in the fashion that they are, whether they are right or wrong on the legal merits, is disproportionately harmful to their public image. It simply isn’t worth it.
- I’m not in a position to start a cycling company (I wish I was), but if you read this blog, you’d know that I work hard to support the cycling community, and have worked hard to help form and guide a local cycling advocacy not for profit that has taken tangible steps to improve our local cycling world. I’m not on a soap box. I wish I had the vision that Mike Sinyard had when he started his company–as I said, his story is inspirational. I don’t want to see the empire he’s built be damaged by some short-sighted legal maneuvers.
- Finally, your last sentences show that you’re misunderstanding the changing world of cycling. Thirty years ago, there were very few people who had the ability to have a voice in the world of cycling. There was no internet, no blogging, no Facebook. A story like this never would have seen the light of day, much less draw the attention that it has drawn. The world is changing. People like me do have a voice. And frankly, there are a lot of people who are being a lot less reasonable about these issues–and they have voices too. If you don’t believe in the power of crowds when they can instantly share information and thoughts via the internet, then you should become more of a student of modern history. Quite frankly, I’m concerned that Specialized doesn’t see this issue more clearly…and that’s why I wrote what I wrote.
Here’s another common theme in comments I’ve seen on the internet (and here):
I have not seen any one address Specialized statement regarding having to defend their trademarks. So the letter could have been written nicer like the JD one. But what if they didn’t defend the name in this case then another entity used the name and they could not stop them because they have a case where they did not defend. So where is the talk about two victims. It’s how our legal system works that we should be talking about. We should be saying it is bummer this name has to be defended. Maybe!
There is a lot of good writing out there about the underlying legal issues. The Red Kite article linked in the original post is a great example of that analysis; here’s another article from Velonews. Here’s the problem, though:
- The thousands of people tweeting about this issue and chanting Death to Specialized don’t really care about the dotted i’s and crossed t’s of intellectual property law. I haven’t written about the legal analysis or my personal thoughts on the trademark claim–intentionally so. This is an instance where the legal analysis is irrelevant; it’s a red herring. Whatever economic harm Specialized would suffer as a result of Cafe Roubaix’s name pales in comparison to the adverse impact that this issue is having upon their brand.
- Assume that Specialized had to pursue this claim to protect their intellectual property. (Disregard your own personal thoughts on the issue, and make that assumption). They still have a PR issue with how they approach small businesses. They are still perceived as a bully. There will doubtless be times when they need to pursue an intellectual property claim. They need to be sensitive in how they do so. They need to be mindful of their image. That means that they need to do a better job, up front, of analyzing whether someone else in the industry really presents a threat to their business and rights. It also means that if they decide a threat exists, they need to be more reasonable in how they address that threat. If they had to address Cafe Roubaix, they should have done so in a more sociable fashion, and followed the Jack Daniels model.
I’m not anti-Specialized. I really like some of their ideas, I love the aesthetic of some of their bikes, and I’m inspired by Mike Sinyard’s personal story. It just seems like they’ve lost touch with the cycling world, and are failing to see how their legal actions are impacting their public image. They need to keep attracting new customers–and not just rely on Specialized’s established customers to defend them. They need to innovate. I wish them well, and hope that they see the error of their ways.