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When brands fight for the right to use fitness terms

Hit fitness brand Peloton is locking horns with Mad Dogg Athletics for the right to use the term 'spinning'

A Peloton Interactive Inc. stationary bike for sale at the company's showroom in Dedham, Massachusetts, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Peloton Interactive Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on February 4. Photographer: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

Peloton Interactive Inc. has gained cult status during Covid-19 as gyms have shut, dominating the electronic exercise bike craze and achieving its first $1 billion-sales quarter.

One thing it hasn’t been able to do: use the term “spinning.”

Peloton filed petitions this week seeking to cancel a rival’s 20-year-old U.S. trademarks for the terms “spin” and “spinning,” arguing they have become generic terms that are used to abuse in the exercise industry.

Mad Dogg Athletics Inc. has threatened trademark-infringement litigation against “countless fitness industry participants” who use the terms “spin” or “spinning,” according to Peloton's filings with the Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

“Spin class and spin bike are part of the fitness lexicon,” Peloton said in its petition. “Even five minutes of simple Google searching reveal that everyone in the world -- other than Mad Dogg -- understands that ‘spin’ and ‘spinning’ are generic terms to describe a type of exercise bike and associated in-studio class.”

Peloton’s actions aren’t altruistic. The company is facing an infringement lawsuit Mad Dogg filed in December over patents for programmed exercise bikes. While the patent suit filed in Texas doesn’t include any trademark claims, Peloton’s actions are a retaliatory effort to hit back at Mad Dogg.

Venice, California-based Mad Dogg registered trademarks for “spin” and “spinning” for stationary bikes and fitness instruction in the late 1990s, long before the exercise bike craze began, and a decade before Peloton’s 2012 founding.

Mad Dogg has an entire page on its website, explaining the guidelines for use of the terms, warning that only authorized dealers can use them and explaining that the company has to protect its trademark from knock-offs. Officials with the company couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Words like “escalator” and “murphy beds” started out as trademarks but lost their protection from overuse, known as “genericide.” Some frequently used trademarks like “Google” for Internet searching remain associated with specific companies and so can keep their trademarked status, said Alexandra Roberts, a professor who teaches trademark law at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law in Concord, New Hampshire.

“If Peloton rounds up evidence that a lot of consumers describe what they do on a Peloton bike as ‘spinning,’ and especially if Peloton conducts a survey that demonstrates most people don’t associate ‘spinning’ with a single company, then it may be able to cancel Mad Dogg’s registration,” Roberts said.

Mad Dogg would still be able to use the terms, but so would everyone else.

Two weeks before the Christmas holiday, Mad Dogg demanded that Peloton remove a video from its YouTube site featuring a group of self-described “black women physicians” on Peloton bikes, who call themselves the “Mocha Spin Docs,” Peloton said in its filings. “Mad Dogg objected because the word ‘spin’ was used.”

Peloton said Mad Dogg simply made an “unfortunate choice” in selecting the terms “spin” and “spinning” for its in-home bikes.

“Yet it has spent years engaged in a bullying campaign of demand letters and litigation to force people and companies to stop using the very terms they have every right to use,” Peloton said in the petitions.

    20.02.2021 | 10:00 AM IST

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