Two years ago when Diana and Alex Short decided they wanted to launch an outdoor clothing company in Bend, little did they realize they’d become embroiled in a trademark dispute with a global sports apparel company.
The couple came up with a name. They developed their logo and started launching their outdoor clothing product line into stores. But when they applied for a trademark for the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office they ran into opposition.
It’s all because the name the Shorts came up with, Cascade Armory, sounds similar to Under Armour, multinational manufacturer of performance apparel. The standard for trademark infringement in the United States is whether a trademark design is likely to cause confusion with an established brand. It’s also quite common for large companies to contest trademark applications, said Drew Smith, a Bend attorney at Holey & Menker, specializing in trademark law.
“The perception from the big company is if it allows one company to operate with a similar name, there’s a risk of diluting their trademark and it opens the door to other companies to file for similar trademarks,” Smith said. “It’s important for businesses to do trademark searches early to reduce the risk of conflict from having to re-brand after they have started selling products.”
Under Armour, with reported revenues of $5.1 billion last year, has a record of disputes with other companies around the country. One dispute is with a North Carolina company over a coined phrase, and others are with a sports drink company in California and clothing companies.
Under Armour does not comment on “ongoing conversations” between both parties, said Dean Stoyer, Under Armour global brand communications vice president, in an email. The clothing giant sent a cease-and-desist order to the Shorts late last year alleging that the company is creating brand confusion.
“The big companies are abusing the trademark laws to wipe out the competition,” Alex Short said. “We want to build awareness and protect companies who don’t infringe.”
Smith said trademark opposition cases before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can take about three years to sort out and can become quite costly because large companies are motivated to protect their brand trademarks.
“As a general rule, well-known, or famous trademarks like Coca Cola or Nike have a broader scope of protection from competing trademarks,” Smith said. “Companies have to protect their trademark themselves from perceived trademark infringement.”
Diana Short said they had completed a careful search of the trademark database looking for any claims on the name. Cascade Armory, with revenues of $85,000 last year and $100,000 projected for this year, is planning to fight the cease and desist order.
The company markets clothing that reflects Central Oregon’s outdoorsy lifestyle and might be worn camping. They design hoodies, flannel shirts, hats and scarves. The products can be found in ski and bike shops around Central Oregon and Washington.
The company’s logo includes an elk head with the words “Bend Oregon” printed on the sides and “Peaks to Streets” written below. Under Armour’s logo is the overlapping letters U and A.
“Under Armour says we’re not allowed to use the name armory,” Alex Short said. “When we first heard about the opposition, we were scratching our heads.”
The Shorts had their business all planned out — five months of market research, build brand awareness and then sell to stores. They have no plans for a brick-and-mortar store and will sell their products online.
“We have thought about changing our name,” Alex Short said. “There’s a lot going into it. And we have a lot invested in the design and content we’ve paid for.”
Diana Short said it would be a big risk for their fledgling company.
They have decided to stand their ground and have garnered the support of a brewery and several members of the community who have made donations to a GoFundMe crowdfunding account.
“I don’t want to be known as the company that folded, and I would rather stand up and hold our ground,” Diana Short said. “Under Armour is claiming we’re creating an unfair marketplace for them. Our company of four employees is creating an unfair marketplace for Under Armour. It’s absurd.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2117, firstname.lastname@example.org